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

The 315-metre-long (1,033 ft.) “Celebrity Equinox” passenger ship sails on the Ems river between Papenburg and Leer in northern Germany June 20, 2009. The liner was built by 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 fired but couldn’t leave ship for two months during pandemic
  • A judge sent the case to private arbitration, citing agreements
  • Appeals court said claims did not stem from workers’ employment

(Reuters) – A US appeals court on Friday said two former Celebrity Cruises Inc crewmembers who claim they were fired and then forced to remain on a ship for two months during the COVID-19 pandemic can pursue a lawsuit against the company in court rather than private arbitration.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals said arbitration agreements the workers had signed only covered claims voting from their employment and not the plaintiffs’ claims of intentional wrongdoing that arose 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 filings.

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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 late May, after Maglana sued the company while still aboard 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 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 stem the spread of COVID-19. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered cruise ships to cease operations for several months after the pandemic began.

Celebrity’s Millennium cruise ship, where the plaintiffs worked stocking beverages, stopped carrying passengers in February 2020 and in the ensuing months sailed from the Philippines to Hawaii, Mexico and San Diego before ultimately allowing crewmembers to leave the ship in May, according to filings in Friday’s case.

US District Judge Jose Martinez in October 2020 sent the lawsuit to arbitration, agreeing with Celebrity that the plaintiffs’ arbitration agreements applied because their lawsuit stemmed from their employment.

The 11th Circuit reversed, saying the claims fell outside the scope of the plaintiffs’ employment. Maglana and Bugayong were not working once 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 Celebrity: Michael Dono or Hamilton Miller & Birthisel

Read more:

US cruise operators suspend voyages until Oct. 31

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Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Daniel Wiessner

Thomson Reuters

Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at


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