Senator Al Franken succeeded in getting his first piece of legislation passed, an amendment to a defense appropriations bill that would prohibit defense contractors from requiring employees to submit to mandatory arbitration. The amendment was prompted by the case of Jamie Leigh Jones, who has been attempting to sue Haliburton and KBR over claims that she was raped and held against her will by co-workers. The amendment passed overwhelmingly, with only 30 Senators opposed.
What is interesting is the use of a compelling story–who could vote against giving an alleged rape victim her day in court?–to accomplish a broader purpose. Because the bill goes beyond assault cases to also preclude mandatory arbitration of discrimination claims, clauses that Congress and especially the federal courts have generally upheld for years. Therefore this bill might be viewed as part of a broader trend away from arbitration of workplace and other consumer disputes. (See my previous posts on this topic here and here).