Monday, February 1, 2010
As we have blogged about before, you may recall that Jamie Leigh Jones has alleged that she was drugged and raped by several of her coworkers in 2005 while employed in Iraq by KBR/Halliburton, and after reporting what had happened, was kept isolated in a container, not allowed to contact anyone for help. She eventually persuaded one of the men guarding her to let her use his cell phone, and was able to get in touch with her dad, who helped get her out of the country. She pursued claims under anti-discrimination laws for sex discrimination and harassment related to her treatment by the company overall but also sued KBR/Halliburton on several tort theories for the sexual violence itself. Jones had signed an arbitration agreement, and KBR/Halliburton moved to compel arbitration on all of her claims. Last Fall, the Fifth Circuit agreed that many of her claims had to be arbitrated, but allowed the tort claims related to the rape go forward in federal court, reasoning that the rape in her quarters was not related to her employment.
KBR/Halliburton has now filed a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court, arguing that she had agreed to arbitrate any claims with it and that her employer-provided quarters were related to her employment. And although the company is not at the fact-contesting stage, its attorneys couldn't apparently resist entirely, noting in a footnote:
Jones has gone to great lengths to sensationalize her allegations against the KBR Defendants in the media, before the courts, and before Congress. Her efforts culminated in an amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2010, which precludes a defense contractor (for certain contracts) from receiving 2010 Defense Appropriation funds if the contractor enforces an existing arbitration agreement that would require the arbitration of claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or any tort claim related to or arising out of sexual assault or harassment. See Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2010, Pub. L. No. 111-118, 123 Stat. 3409, H.R. 3326, § 8116 (2009) (the Franken Amendment). The legislation does not affect this case (or the majority of existing arbitration agreements). Many, if not all, of her allegations against the KBR Defendants are demonstrably false. The KBR Defendants intend to vigorously contest Jones’s allegations and show that her claims against the KBR Defendants are factually and legally untenable.
For more commentary, see this post in On Point News. I have no prediction on this petition. It's a pretty high profile case in an area the Court has been rather active in lately, which suggests the Court might take it. Still, it's an ugly one, and the Court might not want to get involved. We'll all have to stay tuned.