Friday, November 20, 2009
By JUAN A. LOZANO (AP) 11/19
HOUSTON — A woman who was raped in 2005 while working in Iraq for a former Halliburton Co. subsidiary has been awarded nearly $3 million by an arbitrator to settle her case.
Tracy Barker had sued U.S. contractor KBR Inc., it.s former parent company Halliburton and several affiliates in May 2007, claiming she was sexually attacked by a State Department employee while working as a civilian contractor in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.
A federal judge in Houston had dismissed Barker's lawsuit in January 2008, ruling she had to abide by an employment agreement she signed that said any claims she made against the companies would have to be settled through arbitration and not the courts.
Court records filed this week show Barker was awarded a judgment of $2.93 million to settle her arbitration claim against KBR.
The Associated Press doesn't usually identify those who report they were sexually assaulted, but Barker made her identity public in her lawsuit.
"It took me a long time to get here. I'm happy about the award," Barker, 38, who lives in Yuma, Ariz., told the AP.
In a statement, Houston-based KBR said Thursday it disagreed with the interim ruling from the arbitrator and it has filed a motion to modify the award.
"However, the decision validates what KBR has maintained all along; that the arbitration process is truly neutral and works in the best interest of the parties involved," the statement said.
Barker said she was upset KBR is trying to modify the award.
"They are still dragging it out," she said. "They didn't win and now they want to amend the award. You can't with binding arbitration. How is that fair?"
In her lawsuit, Barker had claimed while working in the companies' procurement department in Baghdad, she was housed in mostly male barracks and consistently subjected to sexually explicit comments and verbal and physical threats of abuse. Barker claimed she and other employees complained to the companies but they did nothing and instead retaliated against her.
Barker was later transferred to Basra, where she claimed that in June 2005, she was raped in her room by the State Department employee, who she also sued. That case was transferred to federal court in Virginia, where it was formally settled last week. Details of the settlement were not made public.
U.S. District Judge Gray Miller, in dismissing the lawsuit against KBR, said that until Congress tells courts that binding contracts to arbitrate do not include sexual harassment claims, Barker's claims had to be arbitrated.
Last month, the Senate approved a measure prohibiting the Defense Department from contracting with companies that require employees to resolve sexual assault allegations and other claims through arbitration.
The amendment was attached to a larger defense spending bill. A vote on the full bill was expected later.
Miller did not dismiss claims by Barker's husband, Galen Barker, that he had experienced loss of consortium — diminished care, companionship or affection — because of what his wife had experienced. The Barkers' attorney asked Miller this week to put those claims back on his docket.
In September, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that a similar lawsuit filed by another ex-contract worker, Jamie Leigh Jones, could go to court in Houston instead of arbitration.
Jones filed a federal lawsuit in 2007 claiming she was raped by Halliburton and KBR firefighters while working at Camp Hope, Baghdad, in 2005.
Jones has also made her identity public in her lawsuit and her face and name have been broadcast in media reports and on her own Web site.
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