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Kia Franklin

Employer, Government, Justice System Tell Rape Victim: “Get Over It”

Would you sign a contract that stipulated that if you were raped and brutalized by co-workers, and if your employer refused to do anything about it, you wouldn't be able to take this "dispute" to court?

Two and a half years after being drugged and gang raped by co-workers while on contract in Iraq, American civilian Jamie Leigh Jones has in essence been told, time and again, that if she's looking for justice for the crimes perpetrated against her, she need neither look to her employer, the Justice Department, nor our court system.

When Ms. Jones was told by her employer, KBR/Halliburton, that she could either remain on her Iraq contract job where she was raped by former co-workers, or go back to the U.S. without the guarantee of a job or justice, she turned to her Congressman, Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), who brought her back to the states and called upon the Justice Department to do something about her alleged brutalization.

When the government "investigated" the incident but never pursued criminal prosecutions or reported on the results/status of its investigation, Representative John Conyers (D- Michigan) demanded answers from the Justice Department by opening a hearing on the investigation.

At today's hearing, Congressman Poe argued that our country's criminal and civil justice systems echo the message conveyed by KBR/Halliburton and the Justice Department--that if Ms. Jones wants justice, well, she should just "get over it." He said:

While the criminal justice system has certainly failed Jamie, in the United States, the civil court system may be of no help either in holding wrongdoers civilly liable for the injuries they have inflicted on victims. The inclusion of a binding arbitration clause in Jamie’s employment contract may preclude her from accessing a judge or jury to hear her civil case. She may be forced into arbitration, a privatized justice system with no public record, no discovery, and no meaningful appeal. Jamie needs and deserves justice. As a former judge, I have always thought that the best way to solve disputes was in a courtroom with a jury.
The Wall Street Journal discusses the mandatory binding arbitration agreement Ms. Jones signed in her employment contract. Interesting points from the article:
* 15-20 percent of businesses now require employees to arbitrate disputes, up from less than 10% back in 1995.

*"Companies can fire--or refuse to hire--workers who decline to sign arbitration agreements."

*Parts of arbitration agreements are often found "unconscionable" by courts, but whole agreements are rarely tossed out. As a rsult, attorney Cliff Palesky says that "there is little incentive to write arbitration agreements correctly the first time."

KBR told CNN: "KBR remains committed to providing a safe working environment for all employees." But despite the US Army medic's determination that Ms. Jones had indeed been raped and sodomized and despite whatever evidence the rape kit contains, which KBR refuses to make available (makes you go hmmm... doesn't it?), KBR hasn't seemed to meet this so-called "commitment."

This situation, unfortunately, demonstrates the urgency of the need to abolish pre-dispute mandatory binding arbitration provisions in contracts like employment contracts. This is not a case of a consumer who is out 100 bucks because of a defective cell phone. Not to trivialize consumer disputes, because those are important, but this is literally a life and death issue. And instead of being handled by our public court system, the matter is going to be sent to a private arbitrator, hired by Halliburton! How could we entrust this decision to a private arbitrator? And why should Ms. Jones be forced to do so? Shouldn't she be able to choose?

Some may argue that the sanctity of contract should preclude Ms. Jones from having access to the courts. Those people are, plainly put, dead wrong. Anyone who has compassion for human suffering should know better than to waste time engaging with people who believe that a signature on a piece of paper can and should take absolute precedence over human life and the importance of bringing perpetrators of heinous crimes to justice. Contracts aren't that sacred. Period.

Ms. Jones said in her interview with WSJ (subscription requ'd) that had she known "she was being asked to work in a 'sexually lawless' environment, where harassment was allegedly common... she never would have waived her right to trial."

How could she have known? And can we tolerate a justice system that tells survivors of such brutality that they should have known that this was what they were signing up for?

Video clips from the hearing today

Kia Franklin: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 4:17 PM, Dec 19, 2007 in Civil Justice
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