Thursday, October 29, 2009

Franken Amendment and More Important Things Than Rape, Again

(Trigger warning- this post contains descriptions of sexual assault)

Many things, we learn all the time, are more important than a man raping a woman, girl, man, or boy. Just a few of these things are sports careers, movies, and the Catholic Church's literal patriarchy. A man putting his dick in whomever he wishes, apparently just isn't that big of deal compared to things that are, actually, Big Deals.

Perhaps the biggest of these Big Deals that is definitely more important than rape is money. Specifically, a non-human corporation's gathering of it. Let's explore that today and tomorrow.

Previously, I wrote about Al Franken's no-brainer amendment that would prevent federal defense contracts from going to companies that require their employees to sign away their right to sue with respect to employment discrimination claims "or any tort related to or arising out of sexual assault or harassment, including assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, or negligent hiring, supervision, or retention."

This amendment stems from a case in which a group of defense contractors allegedly gang-raped a fellow employee, who was then locked in a cell and prohibited from contacting anyone (the account and more background information can be read here). Because of the fine print in her employment contract, which mandated that any disputes be settled by private arbitration, KBR (her employer) argued that she was not able to bring a civil lawsuit. Consequently, a little over a month ago, and after three years of litigation, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has held that she can bring a civil lawsuit since the alleged gang rape was not related to her employment and thus outside the scope of the contract's arbitration clause.

The Department of Justice has not pursued criminal charges against the men or KBR. Representative Ted Poe (R-TX), who assisted with the State Department's rescue of Jones, has said:

"We have asked soon after this event occurred, to find out what became of the six or seven perpetrators, who they were, and what the investigation was. And we haven‘t received any response at all."

Now, many people have expressed disgust with respect to the fact that 30 Republican men voted against Franken's amendment (the 4 Republican ladies voted for it), noing that it takes a really messed up set of priorities to side with non-human defense contracting companies over rape victims. Nonetheless, despite Republican opposition, the Senate passed the amendment.

However, Senator Dan Inouye, a Democrat from Hawaii, is considering removing or altering the amendment after having been lobbied by defense contractors. According to a source speaking to the Huffington Post:

"Inouye either will get the amendment taken out altogether, or water it down significantly. If they water it down, they will take out the Title VII claims. This means that in discrimination cases, they will still force you into a secret forced arbitration on KBR's (or other contractors') own terms -- with your chances of prevailing practically zero. The House seems to be very supportive of the original Franken amendment and all in line, but their hands are tied since it originated in the Senate. And since Inouye runs the show on this bill, he can easily take it out to get Republicans and the defense contractors off his back, which looks increasingly likely."

Understandably, the defense contractors expressed fear that the "Franken amendment would leave them overly exposed to lawsuits and at constant risk of having contracts dry up." Yes, that certainly may be true. Yet I wonder if these corporations forget that the federal government puts restrictions on the money it doles out all the time. A corporation can freely contract with its employees to its non-beating heart's extent. However, if it wants federal money, it has to adhere to certain conditions. That is, it has to play by the rules and not demand that its employees give up their legal rights.

So yep, I am okay with the risk that this amendment poses to companies. They aren't real people, after all, even though we sometimes pretend they are in the legal world. In fact, I'd say that the ability to bring rapists to justice is infinitely More Important than leaving a company "overly exposed" to lawsuits.

Isn't the point to give everyone their day in court? What are these companies really afraid of?

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