Jones v. Halliburton/KBR: Trial Begins, Not Arbitration

As the Wall Street Journal reportsJamie Leigh Jones‘ trial has began in Houston. Here is the background.

Jones v. Halliburton/KBR is an employment arbitration case with tragic facts that made the national headlines, including a story by the National Public Radio (NPR). (read more here) Until 2007, KBR was owned by Halliburton,  the world’s second largest oilfield services company; both are headquartered in Houston, Texas.

On May 16, 2007, Jones filed a lawsuit against former employer Halliburton/KBR. Jones claims that in July 2005, four days after she arrived to work in Iraq, she was gang raped by seven co-workers. Jones was 20 years old. Halliburton/KBR moved to compel arbitration of Jones’ claims, pursuant to her employment agreement. The district court concluded that Jones’ claims were outside of her employment contract and denied Halliburton/KBR’s motion to compel arbitration.  (see Jones vHalliburton Co., 625 F.Supp. 2d 339 (S.D. Tex. 2008)) In June 2008, Halliburton/KBR appealed.

On September 15, 2009, in Jones v. Halliburton Co. 583 F.3d 228 (5th Cir. 2009), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that Jones’ claims for (1) assault and battery; (2) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (3) negligent hiring, retention and supervision of employees involved in a sexual assault; and (4) false imprisonment are not related to Jones’ employment contract and refused to compel arbitration. (the case summary is here)

Jones’ case prompted the U.S. Congress to pass the “Franken Amendment” to H.R. 3326, which bars funds to defense contractors who require workers to arbitrate “any claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or any tort related to or arising out of sexual assault or harassment, including assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, or negligent hiring, supervision, or retention.” (Senator Franken’s video is here) H.R. 3326 was signed by President Barack Obama and became law on December 19, 2009. (P.L. 111-118 is here; major actions are here)

On January 19, 2010, KBR had filed a petition for certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court. (cert is here) (read more here) However, on March 11, 2010 KBR withdrew its petition citing the Franken Amendment. (read more here)

On May 5, 2011 Senator Franken introduced the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2011. If passed, the Act would ban mandatory pre-dispute arbitration clauses in employment, consumer, and civil rights cases. (read more here)

The civil trial for Jones’ claims finally began in the Southern District of Texas on June 14, 2011.  (read more here) Jones took the stand on June 16th to tell her story. (read more here) The trial is expected to last at least up to four weeks.

Jones is featured in the new HBO documentary “Hot Coffee,” which will air on June 27 at 8 pm CST.

Stay tuned.

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