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No Forced Arbitration For Rape Victims In DoD Contracts

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Jamie Leigh Jones, a former employee of Halliburton/KBR was viciously assaulted, gang raped, and sexually harassed by her co-workers while working for Halliburton/KBR in Iraq. 

After reporting the incident to her employers, Halliburton confined her in a shipping container and prevented her from contacting her family. She was rescued by 2 agents from the US Embassy and brought home.

When she tried to sue Halliburton/KBR for the harm she endured she learned that her employment contract required her to go to binding arbitration instead of court.

In arbitration, there is no public record nor transcript of the proceedings, meaning that Jones' claims would not be heard before a judge and jury. Rather, a private arbitrator would decide Jones' case.

Frequently, the arbitration hearing officers are hired by the corporation. In recent testimony before Congress, employment lawyer Cathy Ventrell-Monsees said that Halliburton won more than 80 percent of arbitration proceedings brought against it.

Mandatory binding arbitration allows corporations to systematically deny workers their civil rights and then escape public accountability for these actions because forced arbitration is a secret process operated by private companies who are accountable to no one.

Because the proceedings are secret, a pattern of problems will never become known.

Senator Al Franken (D-MN) has introduced an amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations bill (Amendment number 2588) that will be brought for a vote tomorrow, Tuesday Oct 6. (see sidebar for additional information)

This amendment will prevent defense contractors from requiring mandatory employment arbitration of employment discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault claims.

The government shouldn’t let these women be victimized twice—first by being raped or assaulted in their workplace, and then by being denied the right to have their day in court.

ACT NOW! Contact your senators to urge them to vote YES for Senate Amendment 2588.


Franken's Proposal To Guarantee Sexual Assault Victims Their Day In Court Passes By 68 - 30, Amendment Offered in Honor of former KBR employee Jamie Leigh Jones Passes the Senate 

WASHINGTON, DC [10/6/09] - Today, the amendment offered by U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to stop funding defense contractors who deny assault victims their day in court passed the United States Senate by a vote of 68 - 30.

Last Thursday, Sen. Franken introduced an amendment (S.2588) to the FY2010 Defense Appropriations Bill that would restrict funding to defense contractors who commit employees to mandatory binding arbitration in the case of sexual assault. The legislation, endorsed by 61 women's, labor and public interest groups, was inspired by the story of Jamie Leigh Jones, who watched the vote from the Senate gallery today.

Jones was a 19-yr-old employee of defense contractor KBR (formerly a Halliburton subsidiary) stationed in Iraq who was gang raped by her co-workers and imprisoned in a shipping container when she tried to report the crime. Her father and U.S. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.), worked together to secure her safe return to the United States, but once she was home, she learned a fine-print clause in her KBR contract banned her from taking her case to court, instead forcing her into an "arbitration" process that would be run by KBR itself. Just today, Halliburton filed a petition for a rehearing en banc in the 5th Circuit Court, which means that Jamie's fight is far from over.

"I'm proud of what we accomplished today," said Sen. Franken. "Victims of sexual assault deserve their day in court and no corporation should be able to deny them that right. Jamie's courage in telling her story will help women all over this country and I'm honored to have been a part of that."

"I am highly honored that Senator Franken and his wife have created this amendment to ensure that others do not have to endure the suffering that I have," said Jones. "This amendment makes all the hard times that I have gone through, when going public with such a personal tragedy, worth every tear shed from telling and retelling my horrific experience. I know this amendment will save so many in the future."

Specifically, Sen. Franken's amendment:

Does not require contractors to change or modify existing employment contracts. It only bars funds to contractors who continue to use these mandatory arbitration clauses in their employment contracts.
Narrowly targets the most egregious violations and applies to defense contracts, many of which are administered abroad, where women are the most vulnerable and least likely to have support resources. The amendment will apply to many contractors that have already demonstrated their incompetence in efficiently carrying out defense contracts, and have further demonstrated their unwillingness and their inability to protect women from sexual assault.
Applies to claims arising out of sexual assault, like assault & battery (including rape), intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent hiring, retention, and supervision, as well as Title VII civil rights claims, which were specifically designed to protect vulnerable groups in the workplace.

Leading Minnesota and national organizations who have endorsed Sen. Franken's amendment include the Minnesota Women Lawyers, the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the Sexual Violence Center, Minnesota NOW, Advocates for Human Rights, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, the National Women's Law Center, the National Partnership for Women and Families, the American Association of University Women, the National Council of La Raza, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and the Consumer Federation of America. A full list of the 61 endorsing organizations is attached.

"Sexual violence is about a person trying to exercise power and control over another person through unwanted sexual contact and violence," said Pam Zeller, Executive Director of the Sexual Violence Center. "In arbitration the intent is to arrive at an agreement. This agreement does not have to be equitable in order to be resolved. It is also not intended to resolve a criminal matter. Sexual harassment and sexual violence inherently have an imbalance of power. Submitting a victim of sexual harassment, or sexual assault, to a process of arbitration is a revictimization of the victim, and minimizes the seriousness of the crime of sexual assault. The proposed amendment by Senator Franken will protect victims of sexual harassment and sexual violence from being revictimized through the arbitration process."

"This amendment reflects a critically important step in safeguarding the rights of those who have experienced discrimination in the form of sexual violence, harassment, and stalking," said Donna Dunn, Executive Director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. "We know that justice for victims of violence often seems elusive. It is very important that each person have the right to assess and choose the options that they believe best fit their needs. This amendment is a giant step in that direction."

"No survivor of sexual assault should be denied the ability to seek justice," said Terri Poore, Policy Chair of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. "Asking a victim to enter into arbitration with someone who raped her or a company that wouldn't protect her is outrageous and sends a clear message that such violence is simply not taken seriously."

Click here to see how your legislators voted.

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