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Cruise Worker Opposes Princess Cruise Lines’ Motion to Compel Arbitration of her Sexual Assault and Rape Claims

Cruise-Arbitration-Agreement-300x200According to court records, Michelle Haasbroek was employed by Steiner Transocean Limited and worked as a spa facialist on board the M/S Crown Princess, a vessel owned and operated by Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd.  Ms. Haasbroek alleges in court filings that she was raped by Eddie Yamile Santa Cruiz Reyes (“Reyes”), a cruise line employee, while off duty in a crewmember residential cabin.  As a result of the rape, Ms. Haasbroek became pregnant and gave birth to a child.

Ms. Haasbroek signed an employment agreement with Steiner which provided that her duties were “to perform services in the company’s spa, salon or fitness facility on the vessel.”  Pursuant to the employment agreement.  Ms. Haasbroek agreed to resolve any and all disputes by final and binding arbitration in Nassau, The Bahamas.

Per court filings, Ms. Haasbroek met Reyes at the church aboard the vessel and she considered him strictly a platonic friend.  On the day of the incident, Ms. Haasbroek went to Reyes’ cabin to pick up his computer so she could bring it ashore for him to be repaired and he assaulted and raped her.

Ms. Haasbroek filed suit in the Circuit Court of the 11th Judicial Circuit in and for Miami-Dade County because six of the eight claims she asserts against the defendants are common law tort claims, which she claims are unrelated to the Employment Contract and not employment based.

Ms. Haasbroek’s attorneys, argue that her assault and rape do not have a significant relationship to her employment and do not touch upon matters covered by the Employment Agreement. Additionally, they assert that Ms. Haasbroek’s claims exist even in the absence of an employment relationship; had she been assaulted by an employee as a passenger she would have the same causes of action.

In response, defendants removed the matter to the United States District Court Southern District of Florida and moved to dismiss and compel arbitration. Defendants argue that the broad language of the arbitration provision covers all allegations and claims asserted in the complaint.

In opposition to the motion to compel arbitration, Ms. Haasbroek also points out that the cruise line, as a non-signatory party to the employment agreement cannot enforce the arbitration clause against her because the cruise line cannot establish the conditions for equitable estoppel to apply. First, the scope of the arbitration agreement must cover the dispute and in her case, it does not. Second, her claims do not depend on the underlying employment contract but rather are independent and could have been brought by her regardless of her employment status.

The defendants’ motion is currently pending before Chief Judge K. Michael Moore and a ruling is expected in the coming days. This ruling will undoubtedly affect future crewmembers arguing that sexual assault claims are beyond the scope of employment agreements.