Monday, February 01, 2010

KBR Trashes Jamie Leigh Jones

You may remember the story of Jamie Leigh Jones, a KBR employee who alleges she was drugged and raped by colleagues of hers while working in Iraq, then locked in a shipping container with no food, water, or outside contact for 24 hours when she reported the crime. KBR then tried to prevent Ms. Jones from getting her day in court by asserting that her allegation was "employment-related" and thus fell under a mandatory arbitration agreement (y'all know my thoughts on those in general). The story sparked the passage of a law written by Al Franken which would prevent such arbitration clauses from being enforced by defense contractors in cases concerning rape, sexual assault, or discrimination (Republicans were stunned when their opposition to the law turned into a political disaster).

But KBR is still fighting. Pilloried in the press, stung by hostile legislation, and losing its case before the 5th Circuit, KBR has petitioned the Supreme Court to grant cert in its case in a last ditch effort to keep Ms. Jones out of court. And its primary strategy is to try and trash the reputation of Ms. Jones:
But having lost at the trial court, again at the appeals court and then in the Senate as the Franken amendment was signed into law, KBR/Halliburton, in its petition to the Supreme Court last week, wasted no time at all in trashing her. While advancing its legal theory that Jones's claim is unquestionably "related to" her employment, it also promises, in a footnote, that "The KBR Defendants intend to vigorously contest Jones's allegations and show that her claims against the KBR Defendants are factually and legally untenable." Er, where do they plan to show all that? In the secret underground arbitration lair of KBR?

In addition to going after her truthfulness in its court pleadings, KBR has mounted a zealous public campaign to "correct the facts" about the Jones litigation—urging, for instance, that "Ms. Jones' allegation of rape remains unsubstantiated" and that she wasn't locked in a shipping container but rather "provided with a secure living trailer." Apparently KBR fails to appreciate the irony of demanding that all of its counter-facts come to light despite its love for secret arbitration.

KBR is now claiming that Ms. Jones has "sensationalize[d] her allegations against the KBR Defendants in the media, before the courts, and before Congress," apparently to experience the joy of being known in public as the victim of rape.

As Senator Franken noted when asked:
"You know where a great place to try arguments is? In court. But they've spent five years fighting against her attempts to have her day there. It seems odd that they wouldn't want to explain their side in the courtroom, since they're willing to in the media."

In any event, one suspects that this will not end well for KBR. Ms. Jones has proven herself to be tough, resilient, and unwilling to back down regardless of the pressure put on her. I fully expect her to beat back this last challenge -- and then cream KBR for their egregious abuses with the full force of the law.


Joe said...

You seem to have a very high level of confidence about the merits of the case. I'm less confident.

Without confidence on the merits, I'm not sure what's wrong with trashing the reputation of your litigation opponent, unless you're lying. If you're sure they're lying, then sure, it's wrong, but what's wrong is the dishonesty, not that they're trashing her reputation per se, right? I mean, if she's lying, then her reputation ought to be trashed? (In any case, the quotes you cite don't sound like general "reputation-trashing" to me; they just say she's lying, not any character-specific basis for believing she's lying.)

David Schraub said...

That link keeps saying things about how the story is inconsistent without itself, but barely gives any examples, and ultimately concludes that the story seems credible. More importantly, if Ms. Jones has for some reason been hoodwinked into pursuing an anti-arbitration agenda (I'm not sure why she would agree to do that unless she felt like the arbitration proceedings would be unfair, which, given what I know about mandatory arbitration, seems likely), Overlawyered makes no bones about his agenda to protect mandatory arbitration from any and all threats.

joe said...

With all due respect to Senator Franken, whose amendment here was a good one, there's nothing too odd about a litigious posture meant to minimize risk (by kicking the case into mandatory arbitration, which I agree certainly falls short of being a just forum) or a media strategy denying wrongdoing. Bad press is bad for business, after all, and losing a high profile case of this nature in court would lead to some very bad press.

It's all profit motive.

joe said...

(not the same joe as the first response)

Joe said...


Ted Frank is obviously a supporter of arbitration agreements. But you didn't answer either of my criticisms of your post, which are (1) that you seem overconfident about the merits of JLJ's case, and (2) that you mischaracterize KBR's actions as "trashing" JLJ.