(CN) – A Texas woman who claims she was drugged, beaten and gang-raped by coworkers at Halliburton/Kellogg Brown & Root in Iraq can sidestep arbitration and proceed to trial over the alleged assault, the 5th Circuit ruled.
The New Orleans-based judges ruled 2-1 that the allegations fell outside the scope of an arbitration clause in her work contract, which required her to arbitrate all personal injury claims “related to [her] employment” and “arising in the workplace.”
The plaintiff, an administrative assistant, claims she asked to be transferred from Houston, Texas, to Iraq after a supervisor sexually harassed her.
Three days after arriving in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, she was allegedly drugged, beaten and raped in her barracks bedroom by several Halliburton/KBR employees. She says she woke up to find herself naked and severely bruised, with one of the perpetrators lying in the lower bunk in her bedroom.
She says she reported the rape and was given a rape kit, but claims the company mishandled it. She claims the company then gave two options: stay and “get over it,” or return home without the guarantee of a job.
Her father enlisted the help of Congress to bring her back to the United States. She later testified before a congressional subcommittee about the incident.
Once home, she sued Halliburton/KBR and various affiliates, the United States, and the alleged perpetrators.
The district court endorsed arbitration for all but four of her claims: assault and battery; intentional infliction of emotional distress arising out of the alleged assault; negligent hiring, retention and supervision of employees involved in the alleged assault; and false imprisonment.
The 5th Circuit rejected Halliburton/KBR’s appeal. Judge Barksdale emphasized that the alleged assault took place in the plaintiff’s bedroom, after hours, while she was off duty. Thus, her allegations are not “related to” her employment, the court ruled.
The judges also rejected Halliburton/KBR’s claim that, even if the incident wasn’t related to employment, it still occurred “in or near the workplace.”
Barksdale echoed the district court’s statement that, “Plaintiff’s bedroom should [not] be considered the workplace, even though her housing was provided by her employer.”
The majority held that the four claims can be tried in court.
Judge DeMoss dissented, arguing that the plaintiff’s tort claims are related to her job.
“In my view,” DeMoss wrote, “the issue before the court is debatable and therefore should be resolved in favor of arbitration.”