Workers stranded on Celebrity Cruises ship can sue in court, panel rules

Workers stranded on Celebrity Cruises ship can sue in court, panel rules

The 315 meter long passenger ship ‘Celebrity Equinox’ sails on the Ems between Papenburg and Leer in northern Germany June 20, 2009. The liner was built by the German shipyard Meyer Werft in Papenburg for the ‘Celebrity Cruises’ cruise line based in the United States. REUTERS/Morris Mac Matzen

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  • Workers were laid off but were unable to leave the ship for two months during the pandemic
  • A judge sent the case to private arbitration, citing agreements
  • The appeals court said the claims did not stem from the workers’ employment

(Reuters) – A US appeals court said on Friday that two former Celebrity Cruises Inc crew members who allege they were fired and then forced to stay on a ship for two months during the COVID-19 pandemic are facing a lawsuit against the company can take to court rather than private arbitration.

A three-judge panel of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously said the arbitration agreements signed by the workers covered only claims arising out of their employment and not the plaintiffs’ claims of willful misconduct that arose after their dismissal.

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

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But they allege that Celebrity did not allow them and 200 other Filipino workers to disembark, even though the ship had docked several times, until the end of May, after Maglana sued the company while they were still aboard the ship.

Maglana and Bugayong accused Celebrity of false detention and deliberate infliction of emotional distress. The company denies wrongdoing.

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

Philip Parrish, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said his clients are pleased with the decision. He also said they deny stealing alcohol.

Many cruise ships were stranded in the early days of the pandemic as the US and other countries closed their borders to stem the spread of COVID-19. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered cruise lines to suspend operations for several months into the pandemic.

Celebrity’s millennium cruise ship, on which the plaintiffs worked with beverages, stopped carrying passengers in February 2020 and sailed from the Philippines to Hawaii, Mexico and San Diego over the following months before finally allowing crew members in May to to abandon the ship, according to Friday’s case files.

U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez sent the lawsuit for arbitration in October 2020 and agreed with Celebrity that the plaintiffs’ arbitration agreements applied because their lawsuit arose out of their employment.

The 11th Circuit reversed and said the claims fell outside the scope of the plaintiffs’ employment. Maglana and Bugayong were not working when 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 US Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 20-14206.

For the plaintiffs: Philip Parrish

For celebrities: Michael Dono from Hamilton Miller & Birthisel

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US cruise lines are suspending travel until October 31

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Daniel Wiesner

Thomson Reuters

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

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