This vote was on an amendment by Al Franken, D-Minn., that would prohibit money from going to any federal contractor that requires its employees to sign contracts waiving their right to sue the contractor for any sexual assault or harassment. The amendment was offered to the bill that funds the Defense Department and related programs in fiscal 2010.
Franken’s amendment was offered in response to accusations made by a woman named Jamie Leigh Jones, who said that she was gang-raped by co-workers while employed by Halliburton/KBR in Iraq. She could not bring charges against Halliburton because her employment contract stipulated that sexual assault allegations could only be heard as part of private arbitration proceedings, rather than in U.S. courts.
Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said Franken’s amendment would “impose the will of Congress on private individuals and companies in a retroactive fashion, in validating employment contracts without due process of law. It is a political amendment, really at bottom, representing sort of a political attack directed at Halliburton, which is politically a matter of sensitivity.”
“Notwithstanding, the Congress should not be involved in writing or rewriting private contracts. That is just not how we should handle matters in the Senate, certainly without a lot of thought and care, and without the support or at least the opinion of the Department of Defense,” Sessions added.
Franken said his amendment doesn’t single out any certain contractor, but rather would apply to all Defense Department contractors.
“This amendment would defund any contractor who refused to give the victims of rape and discrimination their day in court,” Franken said. “Today, defense contractors are using fine print in their contracts to deny women such as Jamie Leigh Jones their day in court. But it is not just Jamie Leigh Jones. This isn’t about one instance, as Senator Sessions said. This is about many women across this country who have been victims of sexual assault and rape in Iraq and who have been hired by contractors and who have been forced to arbitrate by contractors. So women are not given their day in court. Instead, they are forcing them behind the closed doors of arbitration where the Federal Rules of Evidence don’t apply, where decisions are binding and secret, and where decisions are issued by a private arbitrator often paid by the company itself.”
The amendment was adopted by a vote of 68-30. Every Democrat present voted for the amendment. Of Republicans present, 10 voted for the amendment and 30 voted against it. The end result is that the measure went forward with language that would defund any Defense Department contractor or subcontractor who requires employees to waive their right to sue the contractor for any sexual assault or harassment claims.