Mega defense contractor Kellogg, Brown, and Root is preparing to fight former employee Jamie Leigh Jones over her right to settle her suit with the company, all the way to the Supreme Court. Its strategy? Destroying Jones' credibility.
Jones is suing KBR for a painful and complicated reason - after she was drugged and allegedly gang-raped while working for the contractor, KBR chose to lock her in a shipping container rather than investigate the charges. She eventually escaped, but is now forced to sue the company to release her from her employment agreement (which requires arbitration of all disputes) so that she can pursue a court-based solution. KBR is already reeling from Senator Franken's amendment (which penalizes government contractors that force their employees to arbitrate claims of discrimination and sexual assault - a direct result of the Jones case), but far from being contrite, the decision against them in Circuit court appears to has strengthened their resolve to force Jones to do it the KBR way. Slate reports:
The 5th Circuit, splitting 2-1, examined KBR's claim that Jones' rape was "related to" her employment and conceded that other courts have been split on the issue. The panel concluded, however, that the scope of the arbitration provision at issue "certainly stops at Jones' bedroom door." It also ruled that if Halliburton/KBR had considered her gang rape a "distinct risk" of her employment, the company "would have immediately heeded Jones' request to be placed in a private sleeping facility, instead of a barracks where the ratio of men to women was 20 to one." The panel agreed with the district court that for purposes of this litigation, "Plaintiff's bedroom should [not] be considered the workplace, even though her housing was provided by her employer."
While the decision was split, the justices have painted a clear picture of the issues involved in Jones' case. No matter how the evidence is examined, KBR is in many ways at fault for how the situation was handled. In light of the unfavorable decision, the KBR legal team has decided to play hardball, using classic victim blaming tactics to shift the focus of the case.
In addition to going after her truthfulness in its court pleadings, KBR has mounted a zealous public campaign to "correct the facts" about the Jones litigation-urging, for instance, that "Ms. Jones' allegation of rape remains unsubstantiated" and that she wasn't locked in a shipping container but rather "provided with a secure living trailer." Apparently KBR fails to appreciate the irony of demanding that all of its counter-facts come to light despite its love for secret arbitration.
What KBR fails to mention is its part in ensuring the assault remained "unsubstantiated" - instead of investigating the claim seriously, they removed Jones and put her into some form of compound. While KBR claims they provided the rape kit to the State Department, but did not provide a time frame for handover. Nor do they explain why Jones was the employee removed and placed under guard. Instead, KBR believes that relying on a classic strategy - discrediting the victim - will lead the Supreme Court to overlook their culpability in the situation.