Some people might think that one of the things that makes this country great is that every person, no matter their situation, has the potential to hold someone responsible for their harmful actions, in a court of law, before a jury of their peers.
But that is not necessarily the case. And this is not just the inability to obtain a lawyer to take a case, it is an absolute prohibition preventing a person from asserting another harmed them and to attempting some appropriate recovery to make things right.
And in one case in particular this injustice, intertwines with Bushtopia, the world we have facilitated in Iraq and how far we have gone to protect the corporate parties that have made it even worse:
A mother of five who says she was sexually harassed and assaulted while working for Halliburton/KBR in Iraq is headed for a secretive arbitration process rather than being able to present her case in open court.
A judge in Texas has ruled that Tracy Barker’s case will be heard in arbitration, according to the terms of her initial employment contract.
Barker says that while in Iraq she was constantly propositioned by her superior, threatened and isolated after she reported an incident of sexual assault…"whether it is wise to send this type of claim to arbitration is not a question for this court to decide."
"Sadly," wrote Judge Miller, "sexual harassment, up to and including sexual assault, is a reality in today’s workplace."
Well, it’s a good thing we can’t do something about it then, huh judge?
But the case reveals more about the world than just Cheney’s old company being able to pull yet another fast one in Iraq. It is a reflection of how the law has changed in the last generation for all of us.
Millions of people have had arbitration agreements stuck under their noses, or have signed off on large and cumbersome employee handbooks with such provisions in them. By doing so they have allowed themselves to be deprived of a jury trial for legal violations that have not yet occurred or been imagined. Instead their case is shuffled into the private and quiet world of arbitration, with arbitrators unfamiliar with the violation they are alleging and limitations on their recovery more restrictive than obtainable at trial. A fine economic and social deal for the employer — naturally.
The Supreme Court created this new "contractual limitation" seventeen years ago and bit by bit, little by little, it has expanded to the point where preemptive restrictions on an employee and limiting a company’s exposure for not even yet committed harmful acts, is commonplace. Ironically, because of an even older Supreme Court decision, this is not a problem for union employees when it involves individual rights like this case.
And, of course, it has happened despite those "all powerful" trial lawyers.
It’s a great system for corporations — recognized as a person under the law — just like you. Only better.
(picture from the Little Tramp)