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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

The Anti-Rape Forces Get The Last Laugh

Last month, progressives cheered as Al Franken successfully introduced his so-called “Anti-Rape Amendment” as part of the 2010 Defense Appropriations Bill.  The amendment provided that defense contracts would be withheld from any company that forces its employees to agree to mandatory arbitration of claims for sexual assault, battery, or discrimination.  Contractors like Halliburton and KBR had successfully used these arbitration clauses to prevent victims of sexual assault from pursuing a jury trial or even having a day in court at all.

Some people were shocked, and some felt it was just business as usual, when 30 Republicans voted against the Anti-Rape Amendment.  But the majority still rules once in a while in this country, and last I checked the bill, with amendment intact, was making its way through the conference process.

Of course, this amendment provided only limited consolation to the too-large group of women who have already been victimized; once by sexual assault overseas, and again by these arbitration clauses that prevent them from pursuing relief in court.  One of these women is Tracy Barker, a former Halliburton contractor who barely escaped a vicious attempted rape at the hands of a U.S. State Department employee in Iraq.  The State Department, in fact, recommended that its own employee be charged criminally; the Bush Justice Department said no.  A judge ruled that the arbitration clause in Ms. Barker’s contract was enforceable and that she would not be permitted to pursue her claims in court.  Franken’s amendment, of course, comes too late to help her and other women like her.

But this story has some good news.  Word comes today that the arbitration process resulted in a $2.93 million award for Ms. Barker against KBR, her former employer.  So even in a case where the bad guys got their way and denied a sexual assault victim her day in court… a measure of justice was done, it seems.

“It took me a long time to get here. I’m happy about the award,” Barker, 38, who lives in Yuma, Ariz., told the AP.

In a statement, Houston-based KBR said Thursday it disagreed with the interim ruling from the arbitrator and it has filed a motion to modify the award.

Interim, my ass.  As a lawyer who specializes in arbitration, let me tell you a secret: it is almost impossible to overturn an arbitration award.  This woman is getting her money, and good for her.

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