The high-profile case of Jamie Leigh Jones, a Halliburton/KBR employee who claims she was raped by co-workers in a barracks in Iraq in 2005, won't be considered by the Supreme Court -- at least for now.
Lawyers for KBR, who had sought to force her complaint into arbitration as called for by her employment contract rather than being resolved in federal court, withdrew the company's petition for high court review on March 11. KBR invoked the Court's Rule 46, which does not require any explanation for withdrawing a case if both sides consent. Parties often withdraw petitions before the Court acts if the case has been settled. But John Vail, lawyer for Jones, said today, "There is not a settlement," and he expects some of her claims to go to trial in federal court May 2011. Vail is vice president and senior litigation counsel at the Center for Constitutional Litigation in D.C.
Instead, Vail said he believes the case was withdrawn because of the so-called Franken Amendment. Following publicity about Jones' case, Congress passed a defense appropriation last year with a provision advocated by Sen. Al Franken, (D-Minn.) The measure prohibits any contractor receiving federal defense funds from enforcing a contract that mandates use of arbitration to resolve civil rights, harassment, and other types of disputes.
The KBR petition stated that the legislation "does not affect this case," but Vail's brief disagreed, asserting that the company is probably covered and that the law "likely moots petitioner's claim for specific enforcement of an arbitration agreement."
The company's lawyer before the high court, Stephen Kinnaird of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker in D.C., referred inquiries to KBR. Company spokeswoman Heather Browne issued a statement confirming the link between the company's action and the Franken Amendment. The text of the statement: "KBR’s decision to withdraw its petition from the Supreme Court was related to the Franken amendment. It is our belief that the language of the amendment is very broad and vague. As a result, KBR did not want to risk being in violation of the amendment, so the company withdrew its petition."
Vail said, "Whatever the reason for it happening, we are happy to be in court and to be preparing for trial."