Prompted by the rape of former KBR employee Jamie Leigh Jones, Congress will soon pass a measure banning defense contractors from forcing employees to use arbitration to resolve claims of discrimination and sexual assault. House and Senate negotiators agreed to include the no-arbitration provision in a $636 billion defense spending bill that passed the House by a vote of 395-34. The measure is now in the Senate, which was expected to pass it before Christmas. Employers and other potential lawsuit targets generally use binding arbitration to keep disputes out of the court system, which is very much anti-consumer and just plain wrong.
The no-arbitration provision would ban defense contracts worth more than $1 million with companies that seek to enforce or establish binding requirements in employee contracts in certain circumstances. The provision covers any requirements that force workers to use arbitration to resolve claims of sexual assault, sexual harassment, assault, battery, infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment and negligent hiring. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who pushed the initiative, says it “allows victims of assault and discrimination their rightful day in court.”
Senator Franken said the arbitration proposal was a direct response to Jones’ allegations that she was raped by co-workers while in Iraq in 2005. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in September that Jones’ lawsuit against Houston-based engineering firm KBR and its former parent company, Halliburton, can go to trial, despite language in her 18-page employment contract requiring that such claims be resolved through arbitration. However a Houston-based federal judge in 2008 dismissed a similar claim by another woman who claimed she was raped while working for KBR, citing the binding arbitration language in her employment contract. Ms. Jones has told her story in testimony to Congress and via a Web site for the Jamie Leigh Foundation. She says fellow military contractors drugged and raped her and then held her in a shipping container. This woman clearly deserves to have her case heard in a court of law.
Source: Houston Chronicle
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