The Senate passed an amendment Tuesday prohibiting the Defense Department from contracting with companies like Halliburton if they require employees to resolve sexual assault, battery and discrimination allegations and other claims through arbitration and not court.
The amendment was sponsored by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) in response to the case of Jamie Leigh Jones, a young Texas woman who alleges she was raped by co-workers while working for Houston-based military contractor KBR, a former subsidiary of Halliburton, in Iraq in 2005.
Facing South has reported on the widespread sexual violence against female contract workers in Iraq. Several former female employees of Halliburton and KBR have reported being sexually assaulted and sexually harassed by fellow employees.
The case of Jamie Leigh Jones made national news when she spoke out publicly about being drugged and gang-raped by her fellow KBR/Halliburton employees while in Baghdad. Jones, who was 19 at the time of the attack, was then imprisoned in a shipping container and threatened with the loss of her job after reporting the incident. Upon returning to the United States, Jones was told she could not sue her employer because the fine print of her employment contract prohibited litigation, and allowed only private arbitration.
Jones has testified about her experience before Congress, and in September a federal appeals court ruled that her lawsuit against Halliburton could proceed to trial instead of arbitration.
Even though Jones may get her day in court, there are many more employees who remain trapped in arbitration, unable to hold their employers accountable, human rights advocates say. The Senate measure could help remove some of the hurdles victims of sexual assault experience when working for these contractors.
According to the Associated Press, the Senate measure prohibits DOD from spending federal money on existing or new contracts if the contractor or a subcontractor requires the employee or an independent contractor to resolve sexual assault, discrimination or certain other claims through arbitration.
As Think Progress reported on the Senate vote:
On the Senate floor, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) spoke against the amendment, calling it "a political attack directed at Halliburton." Franken responded, "This amendment does not single out a single contractor. This amendment would defund any contractor that refuses to give a victim of rape their day in court."
In the end, Franken won the debate. His amendment passed by a 68-30 vote, earning the support of 10 Republican senators including that of newly-minted Florida Sen. George LeMieux. "He did what a senator should do, which was he was working it," LeMieux said in praise of Franken. "He was working for his amendment."
Appearing with Franken after the vote, an elated Jones expressed her deep appreciation. "It means the world to me," she said of the amendment's passage. "It means that every tear shed to go public and repeat my story over and over again to make a difference for other women was worth it."
Franken said he expects his amendment to remain part of the final compromise defense spending bill.