On Friday, July 8, 2011, a Houston jury returned its verdict in Jamie Leigh Jones’ case against KBR, Inc., Halliburton Co., and Charles Bortz. Jones is the former KBR employee that was allegedly drugged and raped by fellow employees while working in Iraq. The companies and Bortz denied all allegations of rape and a subsequent cover-up; Bortz admitted to having sex with Jones but said the sex was consensual. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendants on all counts.
According to Jones, the trial was not a fair fight. Jones said that she felt she lost the trial because the jury was not allowed to hear details of her attackers’ past indiscretions but were allowed to hear details about her past. Jones also stated that it was her belief that the jury verdict would have been different if the jury would have been allowed to see her physical bruises and hear the description of the rape. Jones’ attorney, Ron Estefan, argued that KBR refused to enforce its own policies against sexual harassment for years, which led to the rape in Iraq.
KBR and Halliburton sought to have the merits of this case determined through binding and confidential arbitration, per Jones’ employment contract with the companies. However, in 2009 federal lawmakers passed a law prohibiting large contractors, those that receive $1 million in funds from the Department of Defense, from requiring employees to resolve sexual assault allegations and other claims through arbitration. Although Jones is “devastated” by the jury’s verdict, she still believes that she did the “right thing by coming forward.” Moreover, her efforts and her story have allowed for new laws that will permit others to have their day in open court. At the very least the KBRs and the Halliburtons of the world will have to answer to a jury, rather than to a secret arbitration panel, on claims of sexual assault.