Jamie Lee Jones, the KBR employee who claimed she was raped in Iraq and subjected to a hostile work environment has been ordered to pay $145,000 in court costs to KBR. See Houston Chronicle report. Ms. Jones acquired some fame when she testified before Congress about the need for reform regarding employment arbitration agreements. Ms. Jones’ lawsuit was initially barred by an arbitration agreement. She eventually won her right to file suit, after appealing to the Fifth Circuit. See my post here. But, she lost her trial. See my post about her trial here.
The judge denied the motion by KBR’s lawyers to assess attorney’s fees of $2 million against Ms. Jones. The judge found that Ms. Jones’ case was not frivolous. To obtain an award of lawyers fees, the defendant would have to show the employee’s case was frivolous. The judge pointed out that Ms. Jones did articulate a prima facie claim of sex harassment and hostile work environment. That is, she did provide evidence of the basic elements of such claims. In reality, she did more than provide bare bones evidence of her claims. She had what appeared to be a strong case. Her case was probably undermined by her prior mental health history.
The result is unfortunate. But, this should serve as a lesson to potential claimants (which I am sure is KBR’s goal) that good cases can lose and if you lose, you will certainly be liable for the employer’s costs of defending the lawsuit. And, those costs could include the attorney’s fees. In federal court, the loser is automatically assessed the costs of the lawsuit.