Jamie Leigh Jones was a 20-year-old young woman working her fourth day on the job in Baghdad for contractor Halliburton/KBR in 2005, when she says she was drugged and gang-raped by seven U.S contractors and held captive by two KBR guards in a shipping container. But more than four years after the alleged crimes occurred, Jones is still waiting for her day in court because when she signed her employment contract, she lost her rights to a jury trial and, instead, was forced into having her claims decided through secret, binding arbitration.
Today, the Senate listened to her story before approving an amendment by a vote of 68-30 that would prohibit "the Defense Department from contracting with companies that require employees to resolve sexual assault allegations and other claims through arbitration."
"I didn't even know that I had signed such a clause, but even if I had known, I would never have guessed that it would prevent me from bringing my claims to court after being brutally sexually harassed and assaulted," Jones, who told her story to ABC News' Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross in an award-winning 20/20 story, testified at the Senate committee meeting on the issue. "I had no idea that the clause was part of the contract, what the clause actually meant, or that I would eventually end up in this horrible situation."
At the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) estimated that at least 30 million workers have unknowingly signed employment contracts and waived their constitutional rights to have their civil rights claims resolved by a jury. An arbitration act passed by Congress, Leahy said, was meant to "provide sophisticated businesses an alternative venue to resolve their disputes" but instead has "become a hammer for corporations to use against their employees."
"There is no rule of law in arbitration," Leahy said. "There are no juries or independent judges in the arbitrations industry. There is no appellate review. There is no transparency. And…[for] Jamie Leigh Jones there is no justice."
Jones told the committee that the system of forcing employees to sign employee contracts that contain clauses for mandatory, confidential and binding arbitration – before any potential disputes even arise - keeps evidence from ever coming to public light and enables large corporations like Halliburton to adopt arbitration as a venue to wipe the record clean of disputes.
She said the proceedings do not need to be secret and that they should be heard in an open court – where they'll become public record. "If women before me," she said, "if they were able to go before a judge and jury, that would have been public record, and I would have known before I went to Iraq what I was getting into."
The Senate Judiciary Committee meeting was to examine the effects of a recent Supreme Court decision -- Circuit City v. Adams. In 2001 in Circuit City, the Supreme Court expanded the reach of employees who are required to address disputes through arbitration rather than in court.
Leahy said the Court's decision in Circuit City undermines the effective enforcement of civil rights laws, and by extending the force of the arbitration act, the Court made employment contract arbitration provisions enforceable, thus enabling employers to strip employees of their civil rights by including arbitration clauses in employment contracts.