Jamie Leigh Jones filed a federal lawsuit for damages, charging that while stationed in Iraq, her co-workers at Kellogg Brown and Root, then owned by Halliburton, drugged and raped her. Jones’ employer’s insistence that all of her claims must be arbitrated led to the successful passage of the Franken Amendment, reported here.
KBR’s argument focused on Jones’ employment agreement, which called for arbitration of employment disputes. After two years of litigation, Jones convinced the Fifth Circuit that some of her claims need not be arbitrated. Those claims involved the civil counts arising out of crimes; the court held that Jones’ bedroom, where she was raped, was not part of her “workplace, even though it was provided by her employer.
KBR asked the Supreme Court to intervene. Courts frequently give a great deal of deference to arbitration clauses, regardless of the disparity in power between the contracting parties. Employees may be required to waive their rights to a jury and appeal, and submit their claims to a single or trio of arbitrators rather than experienced judges. Arbitration is popular with employers for those reasons. But then the Franken Amendment passed. Now both sides have consented to have the case withdrawn from the Supreme Court’s docket.
Jones’ case is set for May.
Vail said he believes the case was withdrawn because of the so-called Franken Amendment. Following publicity about Jones’ case, Congress passed a defense appropriation last year with a provision advocated by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. The measure prohibits any contractor receiving federal defense funds from enforcing a contract that mandates use of arbitration to resolve civil rights, harassment and other types of disputes.