Last week, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill that would ban the practice of committing employees to arbitration in the case of assault. The legislation was inspired by the story of Jamie Leigh Jones and is currently pending in the Senate.

Jones was a 19-yr-old employee of defense contractor KBR 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 congressman 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.

“Arbitration is conducted behind closed doors, doesn’t allow you a jury of your peers, and fails to establish precedent,” said Sen. Franken. “Many of our nation’s most cherished civil rights were established by individuals bringing claims in court. Arbitration has its place in our system, but handling claims of sexual assault and egregious violations of civil rights is not its place.”
The amendment seeks to narrowly target 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.
Several organizations have endorsed Sen. Franken’s amendment, including Minnesota NOW, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV), the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the Sexual Violence Center, Legal Momentum, National Employment Lawyers Association, the Leadership Council on Civil Rights, the Consumers Union, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and US PIRG.
“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 NAESV. “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.”