Jury rejects rape claims against KBR employees
by: KEVIN DIAZ
Jamie Leigh Jones said she was assaulted in Iraq. Sen. Al Franken championed her case
WASHINGTON - In one of his first acts as a U.S. senator, Minnesota Democrat Al Franken championed the cause of Jamie Leigh Jones, a former KBR/Halliburton worker who claimed she had been drugged and gang-raped by colleagues in Baghdad's Green Zone.
With the high-profile victim looking on in the Senate chamber in 2009, Franken won passage of a measure in her name ensuring that military contractors couldn't force victims of sexual assault into arbitration, as opposed to suing.
Jones got her day in court, and on Friday, a federal jury deciding her civil suit in Houston decided she was not raped, vindicating a company that charged she had exaggerated or made up her story, in part for fame, publicity and a book deal.
The jury also rejected Jones' claims of fraud against KBR, which she said had failed to enforce its policies against sexual harassment or protect her from the alleged attack by the company's contract workers in Iraq.
Jones' suit was aimed at KBR, its former parent company Halliburton, and KBR firefighter Charles Bortz, who she claimed led the attack while she worked for KBR in 2005.
Bortz claimed he had consensual sex with Jones. He was not criminally charged and has filed a countersuit against her, according to the Associated Press.
The Houston Chronicle reported that Jones sought as much as 5 percent of KBR's net worth in actual or punitive damages, which would be more than $114 million.
"It's a lot of money, but it's a lot of harm that was caused to her," Jones' attorney, Ron Estefan, told jurors, according to an Associated Press account.
Bortz and KBR argued that Jones made up the story.
"I know it might make a better manuscript ... to tell the story that Jamie was gang-raped and locked in a shipping container, but I am asking you to reject that fiction," defense attorney Joanne Vorpahl was quoted as telling the jury.
Jones' case attracted nationwide attention, particularly after Franken made it a centerpiece of his first month in office. His amendment passed the Senate by a vote of 68-30, with the support of all the women in the Senate, including more than a half-dozen Republicans.
"This has never been just about one court case," Franken said Friday. "Now countless others with similar circumstances will get to have their rightful day in court. No corporation should be able to deny anyone that right."
But the case didn't sit well with Franken's opponents, who were lampooned on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart.
Among them was Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions, who called Franken's move "a political attack against Halliburton."
Kevin Diaz is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.