Halliburton says no merit to rape lawsuit, pushes for arbitration

Marilyn Tennissen Dec. 13, 2007, 3:45am

Prominent politicians have recently turned the spotlight on former Halliburton employee Jamie Leigh Jones, who in a civil suit alleges she was drugged and raped by several of her Halliburton co-workers while working in Baghdad in 2005. But from the shadows, Halliburton attorneys say Leigh's suit is without merit and in violation of an employee arbitration agreement.

Two years after making the rape allegations, Jones filed a federal lawsuit against Halliburton, Kellogg Brown & Root and other defendants in the Beaumont Division of the Eastern District of Texas.

In early December, the case drew attention from the media and Capitol Hill as lawmakers pushed for a formal investigation into her claims.

Jones wants the case to go to trial, but the defendants say the matter is subject to a binding arbitration agreement of the Halliburton Dispute Resolution Program, which Jones signed before taking the job in Baghdad.

"Asking the court to ignore the binding arbitration agreement is not appropriate or in the interest of justice," the defendants' Answer to the Original Complaint states.

Halliburton/KBR, represented by Shadow Sloan of Houston's Vinson & Elkins, also launched an affirmative defense. Defendants say that Jones' claims are barred by the Defense Base Act, the Longshore Harbor Workers Compensation Act and War Hazards Compensation Act.

Jones' civil claims may be barred, the defense states, because she failed to mitigate or minimize damages, failed to exhaust administrative remedies and failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

According to Jones' original complaint, which was transferred to the Southern District of Texas in August, Jones lived and worked at Camp Hope, Baghdad, Iraq, as an employee of Halliburton, its former subsidiary KBR and Overseas Administrative Services.

Jones claims that on the evening of July 28, 2005, during off-duty hours in a co-ed barracks, she was drugged with what was believed to be Rohypnol and "brutally raped" by "several Halliburton/KBR firefighters."

The 20-year-old, a former resident of Conroe, says she woke up the next morning with severe bruises, lacerations to her genitals, ruptured breast implants and torn pectoral muscles. Jones says she reported the rape to operations personnel and was taken to the combat area surgical hospital run by the U.S. Army where a "rape kit" was administered. Her suit alleges that the rape kit cannot be found.

Jones' civil suit claims Halliburton/KBR were negligent for failing to exercise ordinary care in providing a safe working and living environment for employees. The suit also alleges the defense contractors failed to warn Jones of the "inherent dangers of her living environment."

"This attack never would have occurred but for the 'boys will be boys' attitude that permeated the environment that defendants first created, then failed to warn Jamie about � an environment that was excused, if not encouraged, and of which the defendants had ample prior notice," Jones' attorney L. Todd Kelly of Houston wrote.

Halliburton and KBR deny Jones' claims and "object to the sensationalized and inaccurate description of the facts."

On Nov. 5, the defense asked U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison of the Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas to dismiss the case and compel mediation.

"Jones has admitted that she is a party to an arbitration agreement and has invoked and benefited from the terms of the Dispute Resolution Program by participating in a pending arbitration proceeding involving the same claims," Sloan wrote. "She made a demand for arbitration more than a year before filing this lawsuit, participated in the selection of an arbitrator, exchanged discovery and even moved for summary judgment."

The defense claims that by bringing the lawsuit, Jones has "unreasonably multiplied the proceedings."

"Moreover, Jones' attorneys' multiplication of the proceedings is especially unreasonable and egregious in that she has already initiated and is pursuing arbitration asserting generally the same claims made the basis of this lawsuit," the defense Motion to Dismiss and Compel Mediation states.

Defendants argue that Jones' refusal to arbitrate is sanctionable and amounts to breach of contract.

Kelly responded on Dec. 5, stating that the language of the binding arbitration agreement applies only to employment disputes and does not waive Jones' right to a trial by jury.

The U.S. Army was dismissed from the suit in August, claiming that court has no jurisdiction because the alleged acts occurred in a foreign country and are therefore exempt under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

In addition, the Army says that Jones filed the civil lawsuit before filing an administrative tort claim with the State Department, which is prohibited under federal law.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold Congressional Hearings on the incident on Wednesday, Dec. 19.

Case No. 4:07-cv-2719

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