Woman loses rape case against former employer
HOUSTON (Legal Newsline) - A federal jury has ruled Jamie Leigh Jones, whose case became a call-to-action for reform in arbitration clauses in contracts, was not raped.
Jones had sued former employer Kellogg, Brown and Root, alleging the company created a hostile sexual environment that led to her gang-rape while living at one of the company's camps in 2005. The company, a subsidiary of Halliburton, had argued a mandatory arbitration clause in her employment contract had prevented her from suing the company in open court.
An appeals court sided with Jones on that issue, but jurors ruled Friday that Jones and Charles Bortz had engaged in consensual sex.
Earlier this week, KBR had filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law, arguing that Jones offered insufficient evidence to prove the essential elements of her claims.
"In three weeks of trial, Plaintiff has produced no evidence of being sexually harassed during her July 2005 employment in Iraq that was sufficiently severe or pervasive so as to have altered the terms and conditions of her employment," the motion says.
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., was inspired enough by Jones' story to push through an amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act in 2009. The amendment prevents the Department of Defense from entering into contracts with companies that handle sexual assault and harassment cases in arbitration.
The jury also ruled that KBR didn't fraudulently induce Jones into signing her employment contract.
"Indeed, courts have held that to require an employer to provide full disclosure of all potentially negative employment-related issues 'would require employers to confess all the faults of all its employees before hiring a new employee in order to escape liability for fraudulent concealment,'" the motion says.
"Plaintiff has presented no evidence of a specific false representation or that the KBR defendants had a duty to disclose any of the information alleged. Because Plaintiff did not present any evidence on this required element of her fraudulent inducement claims, there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for Plaintiff on these claims."
Jones' case was chronicled in the movie "Hot Coffee," which premiered last month as part of HBO's summer documentary series. The movie's director, Susan Saladoff, is a medical malpractice lawyer who used the case to urge viewers to oppose mandatory arbitration clauses.
Those who support arbitration say it keeps the cost of settling disputes down, while personal injury lawyers oppose it because it keeps them from being paid.
"No corporation - no matter how powerful, how well-connected, how seemingly impenetrable - should be permitted to rob its workers of their rights," Franken said after his amendment passed the Senate.
"But that's exactly what happens when someone signs up to work for companies like KBR. Most people don't realize it when they're signing a stack of employment papers, but they're agreeing to give up their right to have their day in court."
Jones was seeking 5 percent of the net worth of KBR. She had claimed that she was drugged before the rape and KBR housed her in a shipping container after, denying her water, food and medical treatment.
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.