Crewmembers Imprisoned Aboard Cruise Ship Allowed To Pursue Lawsuit
Two cruise ship crewmembers have filed a lawsuit against Celebrity Cruises claiming they were terminated and then forced to stay aboard the vessel and work during the pandemic. The cruise industry makes everyone sign arbitration agreements, including employees and customers. These arbitration agreements are almost always enforceable. However, in this case, the two former employees will be allowed to pursue a lawsuit in federal court as opposed to in front of an arbitrator. A three-judge panel ruled that arbitration only applies to issues directly related to their employment and not allegations of illegal conduct or intentionally malicious conduct.
The two employees were terminated for cause and then forced to remain aboard the ship by their former employer during the pandemic, according to the lawsuit. The Philippines, in case you are unaware, was ruled by a guy who was very capitalist-friendly, right-wing, and quite authoritarian. In other words, the Philippines does not have the greatest workers’ rights in the world and Filipino workers are often used aboard cruise ships. These workers have little right to sue an employer, even if the employer has done something wrong. America has a much stronger workers’ rights infrastructure than the Philippines. Filipino employers are used to getting away with things like this. According to the employer, the two employees were accused of stealing a bottle and scotch and thus fired. However, once you fire someone in America, you no longer have the power to tell them what to do.
This is where it gets a little weird. After cruises were canceled in February of 2020, the cruise ship discharged their workers, but only those who had completed their contracts and had a replacement to fulfill their roles. The two workers who were terminated had not completed their contracts and did not have replacements. In other words, their employer expected them to continue working even after they got fired. Obviously, this is different from how we would expect things to work in the U.S.
As of right now, the workers have won a motion to have their case heard in federal court. This will allow them to file a lawsuit directly against their employer and recover damages for false imprisonment and slavery.
Understanding the cruise industry
In a bid to reduce costs, many cruise ships hire Filipino workers knowing that the labor conditions in their country are quite employer-friendly. In the U.S., we have The Jones Act which protects maritime workers with some of the most worker-friendly incentives of any worker in the U.S. However, because the cruise ship operates in U.S. waters and the incident occurred in U.S. waters, the workers are able to file suit against their employer in the United States. Thus, the cruise ship will end up paying a lot of money for the bottle of scotch that the employees allegedly stole.
Talk to a Miami Cruise Ship Injury Attorney Today
Miami admiralty & maritime lawyer Michael F. Guilford represents the interests of crew and customers injured aboard cruise ships. Call today to schedule a free consultation and learn more about how we can help.