Swanita Taylor, a former employee of KBR, was taking a break from her job doing laundry at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan when a man suddenly came up from behind her.
He forced her face down into a table with one arm while he used the other to grab Taylor and penetrate her vagina and buttocks. The pain was searing and later caused her groin area to swell.
That's according to a lawsuit Taylor recently filed in Houston federal court against KBR and the man, who Taylor's lawyers are still in the process of tracking down. For Taylor of Houston, it was the culmination of seven-month nightmare working for KBR.
She claims she started with the company in late November 2008 as a logistics warehouseman in Afghanistan, first at a base in Jalallabad and then at a base in Kandahar.
There, she complained to the KBR Human Resources department that her supervisor was discriminating against foreign workers and minorities, and was forcing employees to commit illegal activities. Taylor also told HR that her supervisor was falsely accusing her of stealing potato chips, and that the supervisor had committed time-sheet fraud, did nothing about workplace safety violations he had seen, and had falsified documents.
After reporting all of this to KBR, Taylor claims, her supervisor began retaliating by trying to give her extra work to do. Subsequently, Taylor requested and received a transfer, and was moved to the Bagram airbase.
The discrimination, however, apparently did not end.
At the airbase, Taylor worked in the laundry department. In mid-May 2009, a woman colleague of Taylor's reported that she had been sexually assaulted by an Afghan local employed by KBR. Taylor submitted a written statement to KBR backing up the woman's accusations, which Taylor claims made her the victim of additional retaliation, this time by the locals working for KBR.
In early June, Taylor says, she complained again to the HR department, this time about the hostile work environment and how the Afghan employees were sleeping on the job and causing a work slowdown. In her lawsuit, Taylor says KBR officials did nothing. Nothing, that is, except turn the tables and accuse Taylor of creating a hostile work place and in "a clear act of retaliation," disciplining her.
Two weeks later, Taylor claims, she was sexually assaulted. After she reported the attack, she says she had a meeting with members of KBR's employee assistance program, where Taylor said she was filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Within weeks, says Taylor, KBR fired her.
Taylor's attorney, Todd Slobin, who has represented other women with similar claims against KBR and Halliburton, says that unlike previous cases, Taylor's has an excellent chance of being heard by a jury thanks to the so-called "Franken Amendment." It prohibits federal funds from going to any company that requires arbitration when claims of sexual assault are being decided. It was proposed after another KBR employee, Jamie Leigh Jones, claimed she had been sexually assaulted in Iraq only to discover that her contract stated she could not take her case to court.
"Companies like KBR and Halliburton have had arbitration programs," Slobin tells Hair Balls, "which means you go right to arbitration and never get to see a jury. The Franken amendment basically says, enough of this, there are situations where you need a jury of your peers. When dealing with damages like this, emotional and physical trauma, I think someone is entitled to get their case to a jury and I'm thrilled we get to have a jury, because it makes a big difference."
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