The shameful treatment of a female employee working for a Halliburton company in Iraq by Halliburton officials is a disgrace. Her plight also has a direct connection to the evils of arbitration that needs to be exposed. The sad story of this young woman illustrates the tragic consequences of binding mandatory arbitration when it is forced upon a victim of wrongdoing. It has been reported that a young female employee of a Halliburton subsidiary was a victim of rape while working in Iraq. The powerful and politically-connected company responded to her plight by attempting to keep her story under wraps – out of a courtroom, preventing her from seeking justice – and out of the media. But, this is a story that needs to be told to the American people.
The employee, Jamie Leigh Jones, a Houston, Texas, woman, was gang-raped by Halliburton/KBR coworkers in Baghdad. In a shocking display of corporate and governmental power and arrogance, the company and the U.S. government have covered up the incident. The woman says that after she was raped by a number of men at a KBR camp in the Green Zone, the company put her under guard in a shipping container and warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she would be fired. Ms. Jones says she was held in the shipping container for at least 24 hours without food or water by KBR. The company posted armed security guards outside her door, and she was not allowed to leave. Ms. Jones described the container as sparely furnished with a bed, table and lamp. The young woman, who is now 22 years old, told her story to ABC News as part of an upcoming "20/20" investigation. She described her situation as "like being in prison."
Ms. Jones says she finally convinced a sympathetic guard to loan her a cell phone so she could call her father in Texas. She told her father that she had been raped and didn’t know what to do. Her father called their congressman, Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), who then contacted the State Department. They were told of the "urgency of rescuing an American citizen" from Halliburton. Rep. Poe says the State Department quickly dispatched agents from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to Ms. Jones’ camp, where they rescued her from the container.
Ms. Jones filed a lawsuit in federal court against Halliburton and its then-subsidiary KBR. According to the lawsuit, Ms. Jones was raped by "several attackers who first drugged her, then repeatedly raped and injured her, both physically and emotionally." Jones told ABCNews.com that an examination by Army doctors showed she had been raped "both vaginally and anally," but that the rape kit disappeared after it was handed over to KBR security officers. A spokesperson for the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security told ABCNews.com he could not comment on the matter. Over two years later, the Justice Department has brought no criminal charges in the matter. ABC News wasn’t able to confirm that any federal agency was investigating the case.
Here is how arbitration comes into her story. Ms. Jones’ former employer doesn’t want this case to see the inside of a civil courtroom. KBR has now moved for Ms. Jones’ claim to be heard in private arbitration, instead of a public courtroom. The company says her employment contract has an arbitration clause, which requires that her claim go to arbitration. As a result, a private arbitrator will decide Ms. Jones’ case. Interestingly, Halliburton has won more than 80% of arbitration proceedings brought against it, according to testimony before a congressional committee.
Since the attacks, Ms. Jones has started a nonprofit foundation called the Jamie Leigh Foundation, which is dedicated to helping victims who were raped or sexually assaulted overseas while working for government contractors or other corporations. Concerning her plight, Ms. Jones commented:
I want other women to know that it’s not their fault. They can go against corporations that have treated them this way. Any proceeds from the civil suit will go to this foundation. There needs to be a voice out there that really pushed for change. I’d like to be that voice.
This tragic story is one that should never go to arbitration for resolution, which it can be controlled by Halliburton. Ms. Jones is entitled to her day in court, where a judge and jury can hear her case and then dispense justice. Every American citizen, even those working in Iraq, is entitled to a trial by jury when he or she is injured or damaged by the wrongdoing of another. We must continue to work to preserve Americans’ right to a trial by jury. There is a pending bill in Congress, the Arbitration Fairness Act, which would ban binding mandatory arbitration clauses in contracts like the one involving Halliburton and Ms. Jones. It would also ban arbitration in most other consumer, franchise, and securities contracts. We must keep fighting for the right of Americans to hold wrongdoers accountable. As tragic as it was, it’s possible that what happened to Ms. Jones may be the straw that breaks the back of consumer arbitration. This tragic story needs to be told to the American people and to our political leaders.