A former Halliburton/KBR worker who claims she was gang-raped in her bedroom by co-workers in Iraq is one step closer to getting her day in court, thanks to a favorable ruling by a panel of three federal judges in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In a 2-1 ruling, the judges decided that the allegations made by Jamie Leigh Jones of Houston were not subject to the arbitration clause in her employment contract, meaning Jones' civil lawsuit against Halliburton, KBR and affiliates can proceed in court to a possible trial. The primary question before the court was whether the alleged rape and Jones' other claims were related to her employment and whether the alleged attack took place at an official workplace.
Jones started working for Halliburton/KBR as an administrative assistant in Houston in 2004. She claims that she was sexually harassed and demanded to be transferred. On July 25, 2005, she began an assignment at Camp Hope, located in the Green Zone area of Baghdad. Despite requesting to be housed in an all-female barracks, she was placed in quarters occupied predominantly by men.
A potential recipe for disaster.
Jones claims that she was sexually harassed from the start, and that two days after arriving at Camp Hope she asked to be moved to safer housing. She says that her bosses did nothing. The next night, Jones claims, following a party outside her barracks at which her co-workers were drinking booze, she alleges that she was drugged, beaten and gang-raped in her bedroom. When she woke up the next morning, Jones says, she was naked and one of the alleged rapists was sleeping in the lower bunk in her bedroom. She claims she suffered several injuries, including a torn pectoral muscle.
Jones further alleges that Halliburton/KBR mishandled the rape kit, put her in a room with an armed guard who prohibited her from leaving and refused to let her telephone her family. She claims her KBR bosses told her she could either "get over it" or go home without the promise of a job when she got there, according to court records. In May 2007, Jones sued.
The Fifth Circuit ruled that the alleged attack did not occur at Jones' workplace and that her four claims up for discussion -- assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring and supervision of employees involved in the assault, and false imprisonment -- were not subject to arbitration under her contract with Halliburton/KBR.
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"We agree that [Jones'] bedroom should not be considered the workplace, even though her housing was provided by her employer," Justice Rhesa Hawkins Barksdale wrote in the court's opinion. He cited, among the evidence, that since alcohol consumption was allowed only in non-work spaces that Halliburton/KBR did not consider the barracks to be part of the workplace.
One of the three judges disagreed. Justice Harold DeMoss wrote in his dissenting opinion that Jones' claims were related to her job.
"If the attacks had occurred in the Green Zone at large, or at a location where Jones was not required to be, her claims would arguably not be related to her employment," he wrote.
Interestingly, of the three judges, DeMoss is the only one based in Houston. Barksdale is based in Jackson, Mississippi and the third judge to hear the case, Carl Stewart, is based in Shreveport, Louisiana.