Update: Chamber responds: 'MoveOn versus the truth'

Liberal activist group MoveOn is furious with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for lobbying against rules which have prevented rape victims from having their day in court.

In a mass e-mail, the group cites the 2005 gang rape of KBR employee Jamie Leigh Jones. Jones was raped while in Iraq, which barred her complaint to a U.S. court due to her signature on a form agreeing to enter binding arbitration for any disputes.

"Why?" asked the e-mail. "Because big corporations, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have worked for years to prevent workers from suing their employers in almost any circumstance, even sexual assault."

Jones won the right to sue when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found in Sept. that her assault was not in any way related to her employment, therefore nullifying restrictions in her employee contract.

Months ago, controversy over victims' right to sue while already having agreed to binding arbitration led Republican lawmakers to vote against a provision put forward by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) that aimed at giving Jamie Leigh and other assaulted women a path to justice.

When MSNBC host Rachel Maddow tried to find out why, the 30 Republican senators who voted against the bill refused to explain. Most Republicans had characterized the measure as inappropriate, suggesting that Congress would be rewriting employee contracts.

In addition to the senators who fought Franken's legislation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was writing letters to members of Congress protesting the legislation. The chamber specifically targeted the Judiciary Committee and the Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law.

In a letter archived by MoveOn [PDF link], the chamber argued that allowing rape victims the right to sue their employers "would dissolve any realistic chance of the consumer having an effective forum available to them in which to resolve their claim."

Because of the chamber's resistance, MoveOn is promoting a petition to encourage the business group to stop lobbying against reforms of arbitration rules.

"Organizations endorsing the petition include the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, Public Citizen, Consumer Action, Workplace Fairness, National Association of Consumer Advocates, Take Back Your Rights PAC, Alliance for Justice, and the Jamie Leigh Foundation," the group noted.

Sen. Franken's amendment passed on Oct. 6 by a vote of 68-30.

"It means that every tear shed to go public and repeat my story over and over again to make a difference for other women was worth it," Jamie Leigh said outside the Senate chamber, after hugging Sen. Franken.

Chamber responds: 'MoveOn versus the truth

Tita Freeman, Executive Director for Communications and Strategy for the US Chamber of Commerce, fought back at the organization's blog against the MoveOn petition, arguing that the Obama administration shared their concerns.

Freeman writes

Today MoveOn.org released a petition saying that the U.S. Chamber holds a position that it would:

"set a dangerous precedent" to allow rape victims into court.

This is of course false. MoveOn.org's malicious misrepresentation of the Chamber's position is baseless and is another example of its orchestrated campaign designed to intimidate and harass the Chamber and its members. Should anyone read the legislation and ascertain the full facts, they will see how desperate and beyond the pale these accusations are.

The allegations in the Jamie Leigh Jones' case are horrific. As the 5th Circuit decided, Ms. Jones does not have to arbitrate her sexual assault claims and can take them to court. The legislative amendment offered by Senator Franken, however, goes far beyond the facts and circumstances of Ms. Jones' case. As a result, the Chamber, the Administration, and many others opposed the Franken amendment.