Last August, during a Celebrity Cruises trip from New Jersey to Bermuda, a woman from New York was approached by a crew member who said he was a spa director. He had a surprising offer: a "complimentary massage."
Instead, the woman says in federal court, the man "trapped her in a small room of the spa" and "intentionally persuaded [her] to undress and eventually fondled her breasts and vaginal area before she was able to get away."
The woman, identified only as Jane Doe in her complaint filed against Celebrity and the Canyon Ranch spa last week in Florida's Southern District Court, says the assault happened on the Celebrity Summit. Miami-based maritime lawyer Jim Walker, who is representing the woman, argues the two companies are negligent because they "failed to adequately vet the assailant's background," which would have revealed his "dangerous propensities and unsuitability for his job."
A man with the same name as Doe's assailant is on trial this week in Jordan, Minnesota, for raping a 14-year-old girl in 2003, though Walker says he's been unable to determine if he is the same man who allegedly assaulted his client on the ship.
"We were aware of the trial and charges against the man in Minnesota, but we are not sure if it is the same person," Walker says. "Celebrity Cruises and Canyon Ranch are not cooperating with us and will not voluntarily provide a photograph or any background information of the crew member who assaulted our client. So we are proceeding with the lawsuit."
Neither Celebrity Cruises nor Canyon Ranch responded to New Times' messages requesting comment about the lawsuit; neither company has an attorney listed yet in federal court.
Walker says his client suffered physical and psychological damage from the attack and has had to pay for counseling, therapy, and hospitalization. She is seeking $75,000 in damages.
Like most cruise lines, Celebrity has been sued multiple times for hiring crew members who have allegedly sexually assaulted passengers.
In 2000, another anonymous passenger sued the company after a crew member allegedly told the woman he would take care of her when her friends alerted him she was feeling ill. He then forced her into a bathroom and raped her. The woman was awarded a $1 million settlement in 2005 after a jury reached a verdict in her favor.
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Six years later, on January 29, 2011, a woman from Oregon said she was assaulted aboard the Celebrity Solstice. The woman, also identified only as Jane Doe, sued the cruise line later that year. According to her suit, a steward named Freddy entered the woman's cabin after she requested towels and said he wanted to give her a hug goodbye. Then he began kissing her neck and fondling her. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount in June 2012.
The cruise line was sued again in 2016, when Canadian passenger Ashley Jones claimed a crew member raped her in her room aboard a ship in April 2014. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount.
Just two months before the New York woman's alleged assault, a steward employed by Celebrity Cruises snuck into a 73-year-old woman's room, groped her, and forced her to touch his penis, according to a lawsuit filed by Brickell lawyer John Hickey on behalf of the woman in March. The woman and Celebrity Cruises' representative are set to meet for mediation September 24.
Walker says the cases show a pattern of "covering up prior sexual assaults aboard Celebrity’s vessels" and "failing to implement policies or procedures to track prior instances of sexual assaults."