Feb. 6, 2008— -- 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.
A judge in Texas has ruled that Tracy Barker's case will be heard in arbitration, according to the terms of her initial employment contract.
Barker says that while in Iraq she was constantly propositioned by her superior, threatened and isolated after she reported an incident of sexual assault.
Barker's attorneys had argued that Halliburton/KBR had created a "boys will be boys" atmosphere at their camps and that sort of condition is not the type of dispute that she could have expected to be within the scope of an arbitration provision.
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."
Barker says it was a reality at Halliburton/KBR. From the moment she arrived at the Halliburton/KBR camp in Basra, Iraq, she says she was treated like a sex object.
"When I arrived in Basra, there were about five men that worked on the camp for the company I worked for and they were waiting for me," Barker told ABC News in an exclusive interview that aired last December.
"I was told they wanted to see what I look like," she said, "to make sure I was decent looking before they approved my transfer."
Tracy says her KBR boss in Basra repeatedly propositioned her and threatened her.
"The manager of the camp kept making gestures of how if I wanted my safety to exist on the camp, that I needed to sleep with him, and that's all he kept saying to me," said Barker.
Tracy says her co-workers were not much better. She says when she first arrived at her new office, it looked more like a fraternity house than a place of business.
"On my way into the office, there was pictures of prostitutes and animals having sex pasted in the hallway," she said. "Our office was just wallpapered with pornography. There was not one space of wall at all."
Tracy says she inquired from her male co-worker where her workplace was located.
"My co-worker told me that 'you can either sit at the end of my desk or on the floor because that's where the women sit that work with me,'" Barker said.
When Tracy tried to report the co-worker to her manager, she says the manager's gestures toward her only got worse.
"If I don't feel safe, I can come to his room and get a backrub or sleep with him," Barker says she was told.
Barker's case had also involved a claim of sexual assault against a State Department employee. Those claims have been severed from her case against Halliburton/KBR and transferred to the Eastern District of Virginia.
As in similar cases, KBR had moved for Tracy's claim to be heard in private arbitration, instead of a public courtroom, as provided under the terms of her original employment contract.
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.
Halliburton which has since divested itself of KBR referred calls for comment to KBR.
KBR issued a statement late yesterday saying, "As part of her employment contract with KBR, Ms. Barker agreed to arbitrate all claims in the event a conflict arose. The court's decision enforcing her agreement is consistent with rulings from other courts in the upholding arbitration agreements between employers and employees. Arbitration is the last step of KBR's Dispute Resolution Program. The vast majority of employment disputes at KBR, approximately 96%, are resolved through this program without resort to arbitration. KBR remains committed to ensuring the arbitration process is fair to all employees."
Halliburton and KBR had also sought to have Barker pay for their costs of defending their right to arbitrate. That request was denied.