KBR Inc. won’t face a jury on human trafficking claims brought by families of Nepali workers killed while they were allegedly forced to work against their will at company sites in Iraq in 2004, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison in Houston reversed his September ruling that the families could proceed to trial.
Ellison agreed in his order yesterday with KBR’s lawyers, who argued in court filings that a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision invalidated his initial ruling allowing the lawsuit. In the earlier order, Ellison stated that Houston-based KBR could be tried on the forced-labor allegations because “defendants do not now, nor did they in 2004, have the right to traffic human beings at home or abroad.”
The families of 12 deceased Nepali workers sued KBR in 2009 after learning of their relatives’ deaths from execution videos that Iraqi insurgents posted on the Internet in August 2004, shortly after the men were captured from a work convoy. The plaintiffs included one survivor.
The families said the men believed they were recruited for safe jobs in the U.S. or Jordan and then sent against their will to work in a war zone. During phone calls home before they left Jordan for Iraq, the men told relatives their passports had been seized and they were being kept in a dark room. Workers who asked to go home were told they must work off sizable debts their families had incurred to pay recruitment fees to get the jobs, according to the lawsuit.
The case is Adhikari v. Daoud & Partners, 4:09-cv-01237, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Houston).