Friday 23 October 2009
by: Mary Susan Littlepage, t r u t h o u t | NewsWire
Sen. Al Franken presents his amendment to block funding defense contractors that prevent employees from taking legal action when they are victims of rape to Jamie Leigh Jones. Jones and others have protested being blocked by their companies from lawsuits based on their being raped while on the job. (Photo: Franken.senate.gov)
After Minnesota Sen. Al Franken's amendment to the 2010 defense appropriations bill passed by a 68-30 vote, rape victim Jamie Leigh Jones thanked Franken and said, "It means the world to me." That's because the amendment calls for withholding defense contracts from companies like KBR (a former Halliburton subsidiary) if they restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court.
The amendment earned the support of ten Republican senators, including Sen. George LeMieux.
Discussion about the amendment was sparked by the rape case of Jones, who, in 2005, was gang-raped by her co-workers while she was working for Halliburton/KBR in Baghdad. She was placed in a shipping container for at least 24 hours and was left without food, water or a bed. In addition, she was told that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she'd be out of a job.
Once she got home, Jones learned that a clause in her contract would not let her bring charges in court against KBR because her work contract stated that sexual assault allegations would be heard in only private negotiations with KBR.
Franken said the Constitution gives everybody the right to due process of law: "Defense contractors are using fine print in their contracts do deny women like Jamie Leigh Jones their day in court," he said.
Also, he said in a statement that victims of rape and discrimination "deserve their day in court [and] Congress plainly has the constitutional power to make that happen."
Critics of Franken's amendment include 30 Republican senators who voted against the amendment. They contend that rape should be overlooked in favor of protecting corporations. Among the 30 senators against the amendment are Sen. David Vitter (R-Louisiana) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), who called it "a political attack directed at Halliburton." Attempts to get additional comment from Vitter and Sessions were unsuccessful at press time.
However, Franken said that the amendment doesn't single out Halliburton. He said, "Victims of sexual assault deserve their day in court and no corporation should be able to deny them that right." He also said that Jones' telling her story will help women all over the country.
More than 60 women's labor and public interest groups endorsed Franken's amendment. They include the Minnesota Women Lawyers, the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the Sexual Violence Center, Advocates for Human Rights, and others.