At Halliburton/KBR, sexual assault is just part of the workplace experience for women

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Like many viewers, I watched this ABC 20/20 report when it first aired in December with jaws-open, eyes-bugging horror. It told the story of two women workers for Halliburton/KBR who had been sent to Iraq. There, one, Jamie Lee Jones, a young computer tech, was gang-raped on her fourth day by coworkers after being drugged; the other, Tracy Barker, was sexually assaulted by a State Department employee. Both immediately reported their assaults, only to have KBR first lock them in isolation, then question their accusations. In the case of Jones, it even “lost” the medical report that documented evidence of gang rape.

Here, then, is the update, posted this week on ABCNews.com. It ain’t pretty.

A mother of five who says she was sexually harassed and assaulted while working for Halliburton/KBR in Iraq is headed for a secretive arbitration process rather than being able to present her case in open court.

What it means: instead of having her case heard in court like a normal American citizen, Barker will have it dealt with in behind-the-scenes, private arbitration.

Then read what the judge actually said.

District Judge Gray Miller, however, wrote in his order that “whether it is wise to send this type of claim to arbitration is not a question for this court to decide.”

“Sadly,” wrote Judge Miller, “sexual harassment, up to and including sexual assault, is a reality in today’s workplace.”

Whatwhatwhat? Sexual assault is just something women have to put up with in today’s workplace? What?

Here was Halliburton’s genius (the company formerly run by Dick Cheney has since divested itself of KBR): it made all employees sign an employment contract requiring them to settle all such matters in arbitration instead of court. In arbitration, there is no public record or transcript of the proceedings, meaning that Tracy’s claims will not be heard before a judge and jury. What are the chances of justice?

Then the kicker:

Halliburton and KBR had also sought to have Barker pay for their costs of defending their right to arbitrate. That request was denied.

Excuse me while I go throw up.

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