Gang-Rape Victim Says She And Others Silenced by Halliburton
Jones Says They Are Forced To Argue Their Sexual Assault Cases in Secretive Arbitration
By MADDY SAUERFeb. 12, 2008
A Houston, Texas woman, who says she was gang-raped by her co-workers at a Halliburton/KBR camp in Baghdad, says 38 women have come forward through her foundation to report their own tragic stories to her, but that many cannot speak publicly due to arbitration agreements in their employment contracts.
Jamie Leigh Jones is testifying on Capitol Hill this afternoon. She says she and other women are being forced to argue their cases of sexual harassment, assault and rape before secretive arbitration panels rather than in open court before a judge and jury.
Jones returned from Iraq following her rape in 2005. She was the subject of an exclusive ABC News report in December which led to congressional hearings.
After months of waiting for criminal charges to be filed, Jones decided to file suit against Halliburton and KBR.
KBR has moved for Jones' claim to be heard in private arbitration, instead of a public courtroom, as provided under the terms of her original employment contract.
Halliburton, which has since divested itself of KBR, says it is improperly named in the suit and referred calls to KBR.
In arbitration, there is no public record or transcript of the proceedings, meaning that Jones' claims would not be heard before a judge and jury. Rather, a private arbitrator hired by the corporation would decide Jones' case.
In fact, Tracy Barker, who says she was sexually harassed and sexually assaulted while working for Halliburton/KBR in Iraq, also recently tried to file suit against the companies. She was forced into arbitration last month.
Jones will tell Congress today that she was not aware that when she signed her employment contract, she was effectively signing away her right to bring a lawsuit.
"When I decided to pursue a civil suit, I was informed that within my 13-page employment contract that had an additional five pages attached, [there was] included an arbitration clause," Jones says in her prepared statement Jones didn't know much about arbitration when she signed the contract and was shocked to learn what she had done.
"I learned that I had signed away my right to a trial by jury," she said.
Congressman Ted Poe, R-Texas, who has been involved in the Jones case since the beginning, will also appear at today's hearing. He disagrees with the arbitration solution.
"Air things out in a public forum of a courtroom," said Rep. Poe in an earlier interview with ABC News. "That's why we have courts in the United States."
More than two years since her attack, no criminal charges have been brought in the matter, and legal experts say that it is highly unlikely that Jones' alleged assailants will ever face a judge and jury.
Jones says that the arbitration clauses are letting her rapists and other criminals off the legal hook.
"The forced arbitration clause in Army contractor's contracts prove to protect the criminals of violent crimes, rather than enforce they be held accountable by a judge and jury," Jones says in her remarks. "My goal is to ensure all American civilians who become victims of violent crimes while abroad have the right to justice before a judge and jury."
KBR said in a statement to ABCNews.com, "Arbitration is the last step of KBR's Dispute Resolution Program. The vast majority of employment disputes at KBR, approximately 96 percent, are resolved through this program without resort to arbitration. KBR remains committed to ensuring the arbitration process is fair to all employees."
Since the attacks, 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.
"I want other women to know that it's not their fault," said Jones. "They can go against corporations that have treated them this way." Jones said that any proceeds from the civil suit will go to her foundation.
"There needs to be a voice out there that really pushed for change," she said. "I'd like to be that voice."
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