Congress Votes to Protect Sexual Assault and Discrimination Victims From Defense Contractor Forced Arbitrations

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For Immediate Release: December 19, 2009

Contact: Ray De Lorenzi
202-965-3500, ext. 8369
media.replies@justice.org

Congress Votes to Protect Sexual Assault and Discrimination Victims From Defense Contractor Forced Arbitrations

Bill goes to President’s desk; forced arbitrations will be prohibited in most egregious cases

Washington, DC—A landmark provision in the Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 3326) – passed by the U.S. Senate today – will protect defense contractor employees who have been victims of sexual assault, harassment, or other forms of discrimination and then forced into one-sided arbitration proceedings by their employer.

The amendment – sponsored by Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) – was inspired by the story of Jamie Leigh Jones, who was raped, drugged, beaten, and then confined to a shipping container by KBR/Halliburton employees while working in Iraq. Because of a clause placed in her employment contract, KBR forced her to submit to a binding, secret, non-appealable arbitration. Jamie had to fight to obtain access to the justice system because she unknowingly signed an arbitration clause as part of her 18-page employment contract.

"All too often, corporations use forced arbitration against their employees or customers to escape accountability. It’s even more unconscionable when used against someone like Jamie," said American Association for Justice President Anthony Tarricone. "While Congress must go further to ban forced arbitrations in all contexts, this critical provision will protect defense contractor workers who experience the most egregious conduct."

Forced arbitration clauses are hidden in the fine print of everything from cell phone, home, credit card and retirement account terms of agreement to employment and nursing home contracts. Just by taking a job or buying a product or service, consumers and employees are forced to give up their right to take their case to court if they are harmed by a corporation.

Two bills have been introduced in Congress to stem the abusive practice of forced arbitration. The bipartisan Arbitration Fairness Act (S. 931 / H.R. 1020), sponsored by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), would ensure that the decision to arbitrate is made voluntarily and after a dispute has arisen, so corporations cannot manipulate the arbitration system in their favor at the expense of consumers and employees. The bipartisan Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act (S. 512 / H.R. 1237), sponsored by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), would eliminate forced arbitration clauses in nursing home contracts.

The Department of Defense Appropriations Act will now go to the President’s desk and become law upon his signature.

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