KBR Bans Cell Use After Alleged Rape Victim Calls Father for Help
When I wrote about military contractor defenses the other day, I neglected to mention another popular one used by KBR, Blackwater and others: mandatory secret arbitration. I was reminded of it when I read the news this week that KBR had decided to ban use of all personal cell phones by its employees in Iraq.
Here’s the connection. Last year, Jamie Leigh Jones, 22, a KBR employee who says she was drugged and brutally raped by several male KBR employees two years earlier, sued the company (and Halliburton, KBR’s parent company until last year) for, among other things, trying to cover-up the incident. One thing KBR officials did, she says, after she woke up bleeding, was sequester her in a shipping container, telling her if she left Iraq for medical treatment she’d be fired. It was only after she was able to convince a guard to let her use his cell phone to call her father at home in Texas that he intervened by calling the State Dept, and she was able to get out.
KBR’s response to Jones’ lawsuit — and to the lawsuits of several other women who claim they were raped and sexually harassed by male KBR employees in Iraq — was to move to dismiss the claim on the grounds that employment contracts required all employment disputes to be resolved by private arbitration. That means not only that the women don’t get their day in court, and the kind of damages against the company that a court could provide if the jury discovers wrongdoing; it also means that the entire proceeding is held behind closed doors. Arbitrators’ decisions, too, are usually secret, as are the outcome of the case. That’s far more convenient (and less costly) for KBR than a public trial.
Jones’s lawyers argued that being gang-raped was not part of her job description; the company can’t call that an employment dispute subject to her contract’s mandatory arbitration clause. The federal court agreed. “This court does not believe that plaintiff’s bedroom should be considered the workplace, even though her housing was provided by her employer,” wrote U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison.
Apparently, KBR disagrees. In June, the company appealed that decision. Jones will now have to wait even longer – months or perhaps years — for a decision on whether she’ll ever get her day in court.
In KBR’s decision, earlier this week, to prohibit its employees in Iraq from carrying cell phones, the company cited “security concerns.” Which made me wonder what they’re concerned about: the security of employees, or of KBR’s reputation?