In 2005, Jamie Leigh Jones was gang-raped by her co-workers while she was working for Halliburton/KBR in Baghdad. She was detained in a shipping container for at least 24 hours without food, water, or a bed, and “warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she’d be out of a job.” (Jones was not an isolated case.) Jones was prevented from bringing charges in court against KBR because her employment contract stipulated that sexual assault allegations would only be heard in private arbitration.
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) proposed an amendment to the 2010 Defense Appropriations bill that would withhold defense contracts from companies like KBR “if they restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court.” Speaking on the Senate floor yesterday, Franken said:
The constitution gives everybody the right to due process of law … And today, defense contractors are using fine print in their contracts do deny women like Jamie Leigh Jones their day in court. … The victims of rape and discrimination deserve their day in court [and] Congress plainly has the constitutional power to make that happen.
Watch Franken’s speech:
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.”
30 Republican senators voted against the amendment, including Sen. David Vitter (R-LA).