Workers stranded on Celebrity Cruises ship can sue, commission rules say

Workers stranded on Celebrity Cruises ship can sue, commission rules say

The 315-meter (1,033-foot) long passenger ship Celebrity Equinox sails on the River Ems between Papenburg and Leer in northern Germany on June 20, 2009. The liner was built by the German shipyard Meyer Werft in Papenburg for Celebrity Cruises, a cruise company based in in the United States.REUTERS/Morris Mac Matzen

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  • The workers were laid off but could not leave the ship for two months during the pandemic
  • A judge sent the case to private arbitration, citing settlements
  • The Court of Appeal said the claims did not arise out of the workers’ employment

(Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Friday said two former Celebrity Cruises Inc crew members who claimed they were fired and then forced to stay on a ship for two months during the COVID- 19, may sue the company in court instead of private arbitration.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the arbitration agreements the workers signed only covered claims arising out of their employment, not the plaintiffs’ claims of willful misconduct that occurred after they were fired.

Plaintiffs Ryan Maglana and Francis Bugayong, who are citizens of the Philippines, had already been on the ship for more than six weeks when Celebrity fired them in March 2020 for allegedly stealing a bottle of Scotch, according to court documents.

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But they claim that even though the ship docked several times, Celebrity did not allow them and 200 other Filipino workers to disembark until the end of May after Maglana sued the company while he was still on board the ship.

Maglana and Bugayong accused Celebrity of false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The company has denied wrongdoing.

Celebrity and its parent, Royal Caribbean Group, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Philip Parrish, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said his clients were pleased with the decision. He also said that they deny stealing alcohol.

Many cruise ships were stranded in the early days of the pandemic as the US and other countries moved to close their borders to stop the spread of COVID-19. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered cruise ships to shut down for several months after the pandemic began.

Celebrity’s Millennium cruise ship, where the plaintiffs worked filling drinks, stopped carrying passengers in February 2020 and in the following months sailed from the Philippines to Hawaii, Mexico and San Diego before eventually allowing crew members to leave the ship in May, according to documents in Friday’s case.

In October 2020, US District Judge Jose Martinez sent the case to arbitration, agreeing with Celebrity that the plaintiffs’ arbitration agreements applied because their lawsuit arose out of their employment.

The 11th Circuit reversed, saying the claims were outside the scope of the plaintiffs’ employment. Maglana and Bugayong did not work after Celebrity stopped carrying passengers and were not even employed by Celebrity for most of the time they spent on the ship, the court said.

The panel included Circuit Judges Jill Pryor, Elizabeth Branch and Frank Hull.

The case is Maglana v. Celebrity Cruises Inc, 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 20-14206.

For the plaintiffs: Philip Parish

About Celebrity: Michael Dono of Hamilton Miller & Birthisel

Read more:

US cruise operators are suspending voyages until October 31

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Daniel Wisner

Thomson Reuters

Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policymaking. He can be reached at [email protected]

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