The sordid saga of Jamie Leigh Jones, a Halliburton employee who famously highlighted the hostile working environment for women working with US military contractors overseas when she filed a high-profile suit demanding damages from her employer, KBR, after a gang rape, continues. This week, yet another chapter broke in her case, when KBR filed a claim (link via Liz Henry) to demand that she pay their court fees, arguing that her suit was frivolous and taking advantage of laws in the United States that allow defendants to receive compensation for court fees in cases that are clearly unjust or unreasonable. KBR wants $2 million (hey, attorneys are expensive!) in a pretty classic example of an abuse of a system designed to limit abuses of the system. Good work, KBR.
Jones’ case unveiled such a panapoly of abuses, it’s kind of difficult to know where to begin, but we’ll start below the fold, with a cautionary note to readers that her rape, and the subsequent explosion of victim blaming and general shenanigans, will be discussed here.
Jones was drugged and raped by multiple coworkers while working in Iraq in 2005. She reported the incident, a doctor examined her and collected a rape kit, and her employers incarcerated her in a trailer, refusing to allow her contact with the outside world, which has to be the most peculiar example of company protocol for handling rape complaints I’ve ever heard. The State Department ended up flying in to rescue her, although the official story is that she was ‘in a secure location.’ For her own protection, you know.
When Jones returned to the United States, she came up fighting, testifying for Congress about the hostile work environment and indicating that KBR tolerated employee abuses, engaged in illegal activities, and only took action when it was embarrassed in the media. She also filed suit against her former employers, who attempted to force her into binding arbitration, leveraging a component of her contract. Binding arbitration is a common clause in contracts, it’s growing more common, and Jones’ case illustrated that this is a very bad thing. In arbitration, she would have been forced into a secret meeting with KBR, which would get to run the proceedings, choose who was involved, and, possibly, dictate the outcome.
A jury determined that she had her right to her day in court, and she duly took the case to court, where it was considered. The jury debated for 10 hours before rejecting her claims. A little over a month later, KBR filed a demand that Jones pay their attorneys’ fees and costs. KBR is taking advantage of a pet topic in the tort reform debate: Frivolous lawsuits. People taken to court for reasons of harassment, delay, and other schemes not actually related to the legal matters at hand can request compensation if the suit goes forward and they win. In a way, this is supposed to protect people like you and me; if someone takes me to court frivolously for the purpose of making a nuisance, and that person loses, I can potentially recover my legal expenses, which I shouldn’t have had to pay because the suit shouldn’t have gone forward in the first place.
KBR’s deep pockets certainly financed its aggressive defense in the suit, and surely played a role in their eventual win. The demand for attorneys’ fees is simply another twist of the knife, and it’s a vicious one indeed. Here’s what they’re saying about Jones:
Additional evidence of Jones’ fabrication is that her story about the alleged rape has changed numerous times over the last six years. During trial the court acknowledged that ‘she’s told multiple stories’ and noted the ‘oddity of her memory working for certain periods in great detail and other periods not at all.’ (LegalNewsline)
Evidently rape victims are supposed to be perfect witnesses, even after receiving drugs known to alter memory and recall abilities.
Jones countered, arguing that the case clearly wasn’t frivolous, given the way it was handled and the length of jury deliberations. Now, we wait to see if KBR’s claim is granted. I don’t particularly want to delve into the legal issues here, because I am not an attorney and would undoubtedly get them horribly wrong, and it’s important to be aware that my above recap is very rough. This case has been covered extremely extensively in the media and I encourage those who want to know more about it to poke around, because it’s brought up some very interesting and important issues surrounding mandatory arbitration clauses in contracts, and handling of cases like Jones’.
There’s a clear power differential here, though, which is what I want to talk about today. KBR held tremendous power over Jones thanks to her contract, and they exercised that power ruthlessly and brutally. It’s clear they wanted to suppress this case because it was particularly horrific, even for their documented abuses in Iraq and elsewhere. They are, as Jones’ attorney points out, trying to cement their win in court with a nasty damages award to issue a clear warning to anyone else who might be thinking of suing KBR for civil rights violations: Do so at your own risk, and you’d better have a pretty hefty line of credit in case you lose.
Throughout the case, KBR repeatedly attempted to smear Jones’ reputation; they claimed she had a history of making false rape accusations, that the entire situation was fabricated, and they insinuated that she was doing it for personal gain. It’s not surprising to see the same claims coming up in the brief that accompanied their request for damages. KBR’s trying to argue that Jones’ suit was frivolous because the event never happened, and this should have been determined long before the case reached court. They’re telling Jones, who has sustained several years of media abuse while refusing to back down on this issue, who has clearly and explicitly indicated on multiple occasions that she was raped, that she is a liar.
This despite the fact that independent investigations have in fact confirmed that Jones was raped, the State Department is in possession of the rape kit collected from her after the incident, and after her report, the media uncovered scores of other examples of abuses at KBR. Jones cracked the lid right open on their hostile, sexist, misogynistic working culture, and for being the figurehead of the movement not just to uncover abuses like these, but also to reform mandatory arbitration laws, Jones is being raked over the coals in front of the media by KBR, which has spared absolutely nothing in making her look like a deceptive, lying, sneaky woman out for her own benefit.
At the same time, charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn are being dismissed, and narratives about victims who lie are flying thick and fast. These things are not occurring in a vacuum. Jones’ jury was undoubtedly aware of the Strauss-Kahn case, and was undoubtedly following the media narratives surrounding it. As they were watching him play the wounded victim, supported by friends claiming he wouldn’t do that sort of thing and whipped up by the media’s smears of his accuser, they were listening to KBR’s attorneys telling them that Jamie Leigh Jones was a lying mcliarpants who had ‘consensual sex’ that night in 2005, and thus had no grounds for complaint about her working conditions. Writing about the Strauss-Kahn case at In These Times, Sady pointed out that victims who dare to come forward are:
…called drunks, vengeance-seekers, fame-seekers and gold diggers; “nuts and sluts” is the rude-but-concise legal slang. This public vilification can translate to real-world threats…
Such is the way of power. The ability to not just destroy an accuser’s reputation, but to ensure that the accuser is unable to pursue legal redress in court, and then to demand that the accuser pay for the privilege (link via E. Young).