(Update, December 16: And welcome, Consumerist readers. For more on the anti-consumer campaign against arbitration, see the Overlawyered arbitration section. Consumerist’s headline “Mandatory Binding Arbitration Means Alleged Halliburton Rapists Could Go Free” is entirely false. Aside from the fact that it does not appear the alleged rapists worked for Halliburton, the issue of whether Jones is contractually obligated to arbitrate her employment dispute with her employer is entirely unrelated to whether the government underinvestigated a criminal complaint against rapists. They are two entirely separate issues. It’s not the first time that Consumerist has reprinted misleading arguments against arbitration—a shame, because mandatory binding arbitration helps consumers, and Consumerist should care more about consumers than the trial lawyers who are lobbying for an anti-consumer law.)
In February 2006, Jamie Leigh Jones filed an arbitration complaint, complaining that, for her administrative assistant job with KBR in the Iraq Green Zone, she was placed in an all-male dorm for living arrangements, and a co-worker sexually assaulted her. (KBR says the co-worker claimed the sex was consensual, though Jones claims physical injuries, such as burst breast implants and torn pectoral muscles, that are plainly not consistent with consensual sex. The EEOC’s Letter of Determination credited the allegation of sexual assault.)
Fifteen months later, after extensive discovery in the arbitration, Jones, who lives in Houston, and whose lawyer is based in Houston, and who worked for KBR in Houston, sued KBR and a bunch of other entities (including Halliburton, for whom she never worked, and the United States), in federal court in Beaumont, Texas. The claims were suddenly of much more outrageous conduct: the original allegation of a single he-said/she-said sexual assault was now an allegation of gang rape by several unknown John Doe rapists who worked as firemen (though she did make a claim of multiple rape to the EEOC, though it is unclear when that claim was made); she claims that after she reported the rape, “Halliburton locked her in a container” (the EEOC found that KBR provided immediate medical treatment and safety and shipped her home immediately) and she threw in an allegation that a “sexual favor” she provided a supervisor in Houston was the result of improper “influence.” (But she no longer makes the implausible claim that she was living in an all-male dorm in Iraq.)
The US got the claim dismissed quickly (Jones hasn’t yet followed the appropriate administrative claims procedure); the case was transferred back to Houston where it belonged (the trial lawyer’s ludicrous brief in opposition didn’t help). But the fact that the defendants are pointing out that the lawsuit over a pending arbitration violates 28 U.S.C. § 1927 and are asking for the court to mandate only one single proceeding in arbitration rather than a multiplicity of parallel proceedings, is now being treated as a cause célèbre by the left-wing blogosphere in its campaign against the contractual freedom to arbitrate. (Note that two elements explicitly designed to arouse the ire and inflame the passions of the left—Halliburton and gang-rape—only came about after Jones switched attorneys.)
The Public Citizen blog complains that “the allegations of corporate and governmental misconduct will never see the light of day” in arbitration. Which is absurd:
1) For crying out loud, her case is on 20/20, which, as is its ken, happily unquestioningly gives the plaintiffs’ opening statement in handy manipulative video newsertainment form without mentioning any of the counterevidence. That sort of widespread publicity is hardly the lack of “light of day.” (Update, Dec. 15: the KBR arbitration procedure provides a transcript without confidentiality restrictions, permitting exactly the same publicity as an open court proceeding.)
2) If the government fails to offer Jones an adequate settlement for their alleged bungling of the criminal investigation, she has recourse under the Federal Tort Claims Act against the federal government—though she likely will not have any more recourse against them than any other criminal victim does when the government fails to protect them against crime or prosecute the criminal.
3) If the court system is about having recourse for injuries, she has that recourse. The judicial system is not for public storytelling; if you want to send a message, use Western Union (or ABC News, as the case may be).
20/20 repeats the meaningless claim that “In recent testimony before Congress, employment lawyer Cathy Ventrell-Monsees said that Halliburton won more than 80 percent of arbitration proceedings brought against it”—meaningless because (1) it doesn’t include the cases that settle before arbitration with a favorable result to the employee and (2) there’s no comparison with how well such employees would do in the far more expensive forum of litigation (where the vast majority of employees lose at trial as well). (Update, Dec. 16: KBR (which is not Halliburton) says that 96% of employee claims settle before they get to an arbitrator.)
20/20 also adds the claim (absent in the arbitration and in the otherwise-lurid civil complaint) that Jones was threatened that she would be fired if she sought medical treatment.