Halliburton Derangement Syndrome struck the media again this week. ABC News ran big with a story about a “Houston, Texas woman who says she was gang-raped by Halliburton/KBR coworkers in Baghdad, and the company and the U.S. government are covering up the incident.” The allegations are awful. She may be telling the truth. But beware of the sensationalism and hype.
Ted Frank at Overlawyered has a non-hysterical look at the charges–and how they evolved into an HDS-friendly, made-for-media case:
In February 2006, Jamie Leigh Jones filed an arbitration complaint, complaining that, for her administrative assistant job with KBR in Iraq, she was placed in an all-male dorm for living arrangements, and a co-worker sexually assaulted her. (KBR says the co-worker claimed the sex was consensual, though Jones claims physical injuries, such as burst breast implants and torn pectoral muscles, that are plainly not consistent with consensual sex. The EEOC’s Letter of Determination credited the allegation of sexual assault.)
Fifteen months later, after extensive discovery in the arbitration, Jones, who lives in Houston, and whose lawyer is based in Houston, and who worked for KBR in Houston, sued KBR and a bunch of other entities (including Halliburton, for whom she never worked, and the United States), in federal court in Beaumont, Texas. The claims were suddenly of much more outrageous conduct: the original allegation of a single he-said/she-said sexual assault was now an allegation of gang rape by several unknown John Doe rapists who worked as firemen (though she did make a claim of multiple rape to the EEOC, though it is unclear when that claim was made); she claims that after she reported the rape, “Halliburton locked her in a container” (the EEOC found that KBR provided immediate medical treatment and safety and shipped her home immediately) and she threw in an allegation that a “sexual favor” she provided a supervisor in Houston was the result of improper “influence.” (But she no longer makes the implausible claim that she was living in an all-male dorm in Iraq.)
The US got the claim dismissed quickly (Jones hasn’t yet followed the appropriate administrative claims procedure); the case was transferred back to Houston where it belonged (the trial lawyer’s ludicrous brief in opposition didn’t help). But the fact that the defendants are pointing out that the lawsuit over a pending arbitration violates 28 U.S.C. § 1927 and are asking for the court to mandate only one single proceeding in arbitration rather than a multiplicity of parallel proceedings, is now being treated as a cause célèbre by the left-wing blogosphere in its campaign against the contractual freedom to arbitrate. (Note that two elements explicitly designed to arouse the ire and inflame the passions of the left—Halliburton and gang-rape—only came about after Jones switched attorneys.)
Frank warns further:
People with legitimate claims usually don’t have lawyers trying so desperately to forum-shop that they file amateurish briefs like this, and Jones loses a ton of credibility with me over that. At a minimum, Jones’s story has changed over time, and has gotten considerably more lurid. The original allegations are bad enough, and, if true, actionable. If the implant rupture and other physical injuries are true, I’m inclined to believe that she was raped, perhaps even gang raped. (Machismo environments like fraternity houses and athletes’ dorms are responsible for a disproportionate number of gang rapes, which is why the Duke Lacrosse allegations had so much weight in the early going.) I’m inclined to believe that there was a hostile work environment, and that it was possible that KBR was not doing enough to correct that problem. I’m not currently inclined to believe that the criminal action was the employer’s fault, unless the employee in question had shown signs of criminal behavior while working for KBR. And it is entirely consistent with what I know about government if Jones’s allegation that the government botched the criminal investigation is true.
Of course, more facts could come to light that change my mind in either direction. There’s already been a lot of discovery, but Jones’s papers in court seem to focus on me-too evidence (that should eventually be held to be inadmissible) rather than evidence related to Jones. I’d love to see the pending motions for summary judgment in the arbitration that led Jones to file a second lawsuit.
And one hopes Jones realizes that she’s being used by attorneys who are pursuing their own agenda to promote the litigation lobby’s pet anti-consumer/pro-lawyer legislation. The shenanigans of bringing a second lawsuit and suing the irrelevant Halliburton are not helping her case if she has a legitimate one.
Bob Owens has also examined the docs and posts his analysis and chronology. He also criticizes the sensationalism surrounding the case, but adds:
Though there are some inconsistencies with certain aspects of the case and the way it has been reported, absolutely nothing seems to contradict the key claim that she was savagely, brutally raped. Nothing contradicts the fact that she has not be able to find justice for 2 years.
I think she’s a brave young woman, and hope that she can find both emotional and physical healing.