Sunday, October 02, 2011

Rape Lawsuit Against KBR Falls Prey to New Tort Reform Ruling

In the first high profile lawsuit covered by Houston press, $145,000.00 in court costs under the new "Loser Pays" tort reform law have been awarded to KBR lawyers. The amount could have been higher. The judge found the lawsuit not frivilous so the attorney costs were not charged back to her. He called it "flawed, not frivilous".

A former KBR employee who unsuccessfully sued the company in connection with a rape she alleged took place in her barracks room shortly after arriving in Baghdad in 2005, lost again when a Houston federal judge awarded KBR's lawyers $145,000 in court costs for the trial that ended in July.

It was not nearly as bad as it could have been for Jamie Leigh Jones, the former IT worker who had sued KBR on several grounds in 2007. In a motion filed last month, the company's lawyers had asked for more than $2 million in fees.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison ruled Monday that Jones did not have to pay that. Citing federal rules of procedure, however, Ellison ruled that he did not have the option of declining to order reimbursement of the costs KBR's lawyers incurred because of the trial. He ruled she had to pay $145,000 in court costs.

"Because the KBR defendants' costs fall within the recoverable costs enumerated in (statute), the court finds that KBR's application for costs must be granted," Ellison said.

"The fact that Jones presented prima facie claims of sexual harassment and hostile work environment highlights the impropriety of an award of attorneys' fees in this case," Ellison stated in his order. "While the flaws in plaintiffs' testimony may have strengthened KBR's arguments and lent to its ultimate success in this case, they do not indicate frivolity or bad faith so as to justify the imposition of attorneys' fees."

Because of this case, in 2009 the U.S. Senate passed the FY2010 Defense Appropriations Bill, which contained a provision introduced by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) that would ban government funding of defense contractors who forced employees to mandatory binding arbitration in the case of rape, assault, wrongful imprisonment, harassment, and discrimination.

By not be bound to work through the arbitration process, Jones was able to proceed with her law suit.

Jones' case was an example used for legislation after she testified before a Senate committee in 2008.

Weeks after hearing graphic testimony from women who said they were raped and assaulted while working in Iraq, the Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday night approved language in a bill which would require military contractors, like KBR Inc., to report sex crimes committed by or against their employees, and provide employee victims with assistance and protection.

The Franken bill followed in 2009.

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