Today in The Corporations Are Winning…
Jamie Leigh Jones, the woman who was allegedly drugged and raped by a group of co-workers while working for the defense contractor KBR in Iraq, accused the company of negligence and creating a hostile work environment. Last month, after deliberating for 10 hours, a jury rejected her case. Now KBR has sued Jones to recover more than $2 million in legal fees on the grounds that her claims were “fabricated and frivolous.”
This case was a big deal, you’ll probably remember, because Jones had to fight like hell to even get her day in court at all. KBR claimed that the “mandatory arbitration clause” she signed when she went to work for them meant that the rape charge had to resolved in a private, internal arbitration–not a court of law. The Fifth Circuit Appeals Court disagreed. KBR appealed to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, other women working for defense contractors in Iraq came forward with stories of sexual assault and corporate indifference. But, in 2009, thanks to the advocacy of Senator Al Franken, Congress successfully prohibited the Defense Department from hiring companies that use arbitration to resolve cases of sexual assault, battery, or racial discrimination. Fearful of losing their $2.3 billion contract with the government, KBR dropped their appeal. As Pema Levy writes, “Jones’ trial was about rape, but her story is about companies eroding access to the justice system.”
It seems KBR is not giving up their goal of doing just that. As Jones’ lawyer said, “They have beaten us and now they are attempting to crush us. This is an attempt by KBR to chill other people from bringing claims against them.” Sure, if they can’t make themselves above the law, they can at least make sure people know they’ll pay a big price for taking them to court. Of course, given the smear campaign KBR waged against Jones, and the lack of justice for sexual assault survivors everywhere you look these days, I’d say that message is already pretty clear. Being counter-sued for legal fees is just the cherry on top of the shit sundae rape victims can apparently expect if they dare do anything as “frivolous” as attempt to seek justice through the legal system.
But perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising. After all, as presidential hopeful Mitt Romney likes to say, “Corporations are people.” KBR’s lawyer explains oh-so-innocently: “Our fees were substantial, so we’d like to get reimbursed.” And corporate power makes a mockery of our justice system more and more each day.