KBR is still at it.
The defense contractor is now appealing the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a lower court’s ruling in the case of Jamie Leigh Jones, asking for permission to force Jones and any other sexually assaulted employees into arbitration rather than allowing the victims to seek justice through the courts.
In the petition, KBR says that it will “vigorously contest Jones’s allegations” that she was raped, drugged, beaten and confined to a shipping container by fellow KBR employees while working in Iraq. The firm accuses her of being a liar and a publicity hound.
KBR’s callous, five-year fight to keep Jones out of court and confined to one-sided, binding, secret arbitration proceedings shows a company desperate to escape accountability – and should show Congress how desperately legislation to protect Americans’ access to the civil justice system is needed.
Congress took the first major step in the right direction in December by passing an amendment sponsored by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) that withholds defense contracts from companies that use forced arbitration against employees that have been the victims of sexual assault, harassment or discrimination.
More must be done to broaden the scope of protection from abusive forced arbitration practices. Two bills now face Congress that would do this: The bipartisan Arbitration Fairness Act (S. 931 / H.R. 1020), sponsored by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), which would ensure that the decision to enter arbitration is made voluntary, and the bipartisan Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act (S. 512 / H.R. 1237), sponsored by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), would eliminate forced arbitration clauses in nursing home contracts.
As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick writes, KBR’s petition gives a whole new meaning to the politics of blaming the victim: “You can holler about trial lawyers all you want, but nobody wants to be told their legal disputes ought to be worked out in secret, off the books, and in dark rooms, just so the justice system can be preserved for other people. And nobody wants to be called out publicly as a liar before they have found a safe place to try to tell their truth.”