Two terminated cruise ship crewmembers claim they were falsely imprisoned.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has revealed that two former Celebrity Cruises crewmembers, Ryan Maglana and Francis Bugayong, who are citizens of the Philippines and who claimed they were terminated and then coerced into staying on a ship for two months during the COVID-19 pandemic, can pursue legal action against the company rather than having to go through arbitration. A unanimous three-judge panel said arbitration agreements signed by the two workers were limited to allegations related solely to their employment and not claims of intentional wrongdoing after they were no longer employed.
The lawsuit states, “Ryan Maunes Maglana and Francis Karl Bugayong were working onboard Celebrity Cruises, Inc.’s Millennium cruise ship in early 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic severely disrupted lives around the world. Celebrity stopped carrying passengers but forced its crews to remain on its ships. It kept Maglana and Bugayong onboard even after terminating their employment for cause on March 30, 2020.”
Maglana and Bugayong were on the cruise ship for more than six weeks when Celebrity Cruises terminated them “for cause” for allegedly stealing a bottle of scotch. The crewmembers said that the ship docked multiple times, but they weren’t allowed to get off. The company forced 200 crewmembers to stay aboard. In May, Maglana sued, and Maglana and Bugayong accused Celebrity of “false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put a stop to cruises for several months after the pandemic began. Celebrity’s Millennium cruise ship officially stopped carrying passengers in February 2020. However, court records show that the ship went from the Philippines to Hawaii, then Mexico and San Diego before allowing the crews to disembark. Celebrity allegedly wouldn’t even let the plaintiffs get off while the ship was in their home country.
Court documents indicate, “The Millennium arrived in the Philippines. Although the plaintiffs and other Filipino crewmembers sought to disembark the passengerless ship, the only crewmembers allowed to leave were those who had both concluded their service contracts and had a suitable replacement to fill their roles onboard. Because the plaintiffs were still under contract, they remained onboard when the Millennium departed the Philippines the next day.”
Remaining onboard the ship was off little help. Without passengers, the plaintiffs are unable to fulfill their duties serving beverages. The crewmembers were biding time until they were able to leave.
The suit states, “Celebrity moved to compel arbitration because Maglana and Bugayong had signed employment agreements in which they agreed to arbitrate all disputes arising from, related to, or connected with their employment. The district court granted Celebrity’s motion to compel arbitration of their tort claims.” In the fall 2020, U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez, nominated to his post by former U.S. President George W. Bush, sent the lawsuit to arbitration. However, the 11th Circuit ultimately reversed this decision, claiming that the allegations were outside the scope of employment.