Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Responding to your message"

Dear Kaitlyn,

Thank you for taking the time to contact my office about Senator Franken's amendment to the FY2010 Defense Appropriations bill dealing with arbitration. Your input is important to me, and I appreciate the time you took to share your thoughts.

Senator Franken's amendment stemmed from a truly horrible crime committed against Jamie Leigh Jones, an employee of a company performing work in Iraq under a contract with the Defense Department. Please know, this amendment had no impact on law enforcement's ability to pursue criminal prosecution against anyone involved in committing these crimes, and dealt only with the agreements between employers and employees to resolve civil claims in arbitration rather than through litigation. What happened to Ms. Jones in this case is abhorrent and the culprits should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Separate and apart then from any criminal prosecution, Ms. Jones filed several claims in court in a civil suit against the company. The company argued that Ms. Jones could not sue in court because the employee signed an arbitration agreement to bring any claims against her employer to arbitration instead of being tried in court. However, the court ruled in favor of Ms. Jones by nullifying the arbitration agreement as to her claims of (1) assault and battery, (2) intentional infliction of emotional distress arising out of the assault, (3) negligent hiring, retention, and supervision of employees involved in the assault, and (4) false imprisonment. The court therefore said that employers can not require that civil claims of sexual assault be resolved through arbitration and that employees like Ms. Jones retain the ability to sue in court.

The Franken amendment sought to codify this court ruling in favor of Ms. Jones by requiring that contractors with the Defense Department exclude those four claims from their employee contract arbitration agreements. However, this amendment went much further than the court ruling by also requiring the exclusion from arbitration agreements of many of the possible employment claims an employee can bring against an employer. First, it is important to note that the Obama Administration opposed the Franken amendment because of its broad application and the problems associated with enforcing it. Rather than a targeted attempt to prevent the types of obstacles that Ms. Jones faced when she fairly sought restitution for the horrific acts that occurred, this amendment went well beyond in an effort to make a sweeping change to existing law among issues that never impacted this employee and that the court never addressed in this case.

I agreed with the court ruling and believe that the civil claims arising out of the sexual assault should not be arbitrated. However, I believe the amendment was too expansive, and went well beyond the situation the amendment was trying to remedy. I believe that arbitration can provide employees with a more efficient and cost-effective avenue for resolving their claims against their employer and I do not believe it should be largely eliminated as an alternative to what is sometimes a very lengthy, contentious, and expensive court process.

Thank you again for your letter. I hope you will continue to share your thoughts with me.


Bob Corker
United States Senator

The fact that both sent me quite similar letters tells me I'm not the only one to write them about their vote.

And I'm quite sad - where's the snail mail? You wanted my street address for a reason.

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