Employers have found a new way to minimize the bad publicity that results from their discriminatory practices. Sexual harassment is no exception. Mandatory arbitration agreements are on the rise. Increasingly, employers require workers to sign arbitration agreements as a condition of employment. In doing so, employees give up the right to a trial by jury. As one woman’s plight against Halliburton reveals, mandatory arbitration clauses are unconscionable.
Ms. Barker is a mother of five. To support her family, she took a job in Iraq working for Halliburton. She recounts her experience in an ABC News article entitled, Sex Assault Suit Vs. Halliburton Killed:
The manager of the camp kept making gestures of how if I wanted my safety to exist on the camp, that I needed to sleep with him, and that’s all he kept saying to me. … On my way into the office, there was pictures of prostitutes and animals having sex pasted in the hallway. Our office was just wallpapered with pornography. There was not one space of wall at all.
Not surprisingly, Ms. Barker filed claims against Halliburton for, among other things, sexual harassment. Halliburton, however, had an ace up its sleeve. In order to be hired, Halliburton required Ms. Barker to sign a mandatory arbitration agreement. On February 6, 2008, a judge in Texas ruled that, per the terms of the agreement, Ms. Barker’s case must be heard in arbitration.
The United States Constitution recognizes the right to a jury trial as a fundamental civil liberty. Hopefully someday, the courts will do the same.