KBR can’t recover $2M from Jones; case not frivolous says Judge
John O’Brien – (Legal Newsline) – HOUSTON – September 27, 2011 – Jamie Leigh Jones, the woman who alleged her employer was at fault for a rape that a jury said never happened, must pay court costs to the company she sued but not its attorneys fees.
U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison ruled Monday on Kellogg, Brown and Root’s motion for costs and attorneys fees, more than two months after a federal jury found that Jones was not raped while an employee of KBR, a former subsidiary of Halliburton.
He ruled that Jones is on the hook for KBR’s $145,073.19 in court costs. Citing a federal rule of civil procedure, Ellison wrote “costs – other than attorneys fees – should be allowed to the prevailing party.”
A federal jury decided in July that Jones, whose case became a talking point for those who sought mandatory arbitration reform, was not raped in Iraq while employed by KBR. The company moved on Aug. 17 to have its attorneys fees paid by Jones. KBR spent more than $2 million on attorneys fees.
In fighting the lawsuit, KBR had argued a mandatory arbitration clause in her employment contract had prevented her from suing the company in open court. An appeals court sided with Jones on that issue, but jurors ruled in July that Jones and Charles Bortz had engaged in consensual sex.
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., was inspired enough by Jones’ story to push through an amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act in 2009. The amendment prevents the Department of Defense from entering into contracts with companies that handle sexual assault and harassment cases in arbitration.
The jury also ruled that KBR didn’t fraudulently induce Jones into signing her employment contract.
Jones’ case was chronicled in the movie “Hot Coffee,” which premiered last month as part of HBO’s summer documentary series. The movie’s director, Susan Saladoff, is a medical malpractice lawyer who used the case to urge viewers to oppose mandatory arbitration clauses.
Those who support arbitration say it keeps the cost of settling disputes down, while personal injury lawyers oppose it because it keeps them from being paid.
Jones was seeking 5 percent of the net worth of KBR. She had claimed that she was drugged before the rape and KBR housed her in a shipping container after, denying her water, food and medical treatment.
Jones’ response to the motion for fees said that although the case was not successful, it was not a frivolous claim. Ellison agreed.
“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,” he wrote.
“Though this court did not issue an opinion denying Defendant’s Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law on Plaintiff’s sexual harassment and hostile work environment claims, its refusal to grant this motion reflected its belief that Jones had presented a prima facie case which should go to the jury.
“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.” (click HERE for original article) (click HERE for Judge Ellison’s Ruling)