Princess Cruises and its General Counsel, Mona Ehrenreich, Win First "Worst Cruise Line in the World" Award
When I started this blog, I announced that I would be awarding what I am calling the "Worst Cruise Line in the World" award.
This is a special award, reserved only for the cruise line or cruise line executive which demonstrates the worst in corporate malfeasance towards cruise passenger safety and crew member rights. The award, like MSNBC's "Worst Person in the World" award, goes to that cruise line or cruise person engaging in underhanded conduct.
And the Winner Is . . .
Without question, September's award goes to the Princess Cruises and its General Counsel, Mona Ehrenreich.
Princess Cruises operates 17 cruise ships and is headquartered in Santa Clarita, California. It also has a substantial base of operations here in South Florida. Like other cruise lines, it incorporated itself in a foreign country and its cruise ships fly foreign flags of convenience in order to avoid U.S. taxes, laws and regulations.
Ms. Ehrenreich joined Princess in 1993 after working at a law firm defending cruise ships. Ironically, she credits attending a college course in U.S. "constitutional law" as a motivating reason to become a lawyer. One of her responsibilities is to oversee the company's interests when Princess crew members sexually assault passengers or other crew members.
The Love Boat
Princess Cruises was popularized by the television series "The Love Boat" which ran in the 1970's. The TV Love Boat theme is so interwoven with this cruise line that it marketed the slogan "it's more than a cruise - it's the Love Boat!" through the 1990s. Princess built on the "Love Boat" slogan with its current high powered marketing theme "Department of Romance" which caters to young couples with illusions of romantic getaways and honeymoon cruises.
PR - Perception and Reality
The unique thing about cruise lines is that there is often a disconnect between the slick image created through advertisements and what really goes on behind the scenes.
Date rape drugs. Rape. Malpractice by the Princess ship doctor. Destruction of evidence. Lying. Unauthorized release of confidential information of its employees. Princess Cruises has touched all of the bases. Let me start with just one example.
Crew Members and Cruise Crime Victims Have Privacy Rights
I have represented over 60 women and children who have been sexually assaulted on cruise ships. Not a pretty topic. Many of our clients have appeared before our U.S. Congress at hearings on cruise ship crime. This is something the cruise lines like to keep secret. Not good for ticket sales.
One of our cases involved a young woman from Mexico who had been sexually harassed while working on a cruise ship operated by a Miami based company. While investigating the case, I learned that my client previously worked for Princess Cruises. I sent an email to Princess Cruises' General Counsel, Mona Ehrenreich. I explained that I was pursuing a case against a cruise line here in Miami and needed to obtain my client's personnel and medical records from Princess.
Records of this type are confidential and cannot be released without a signed and notarized authorization or a lawfully issued and served subpoena. California, where Princess is headquartered, has the strongest constitutional privacy rights in the U. S. Ms. Ehrenreich obviously knows this after living in California her whole life, and being a student of "constitutional law."
I requested that Ms. Ehrenreich provide me with the particular type of authorization Princess required to release these confidential records. My client would execute the authorization and, in turn, I could obtain the records. I wanted to be certain that I was in full compliance with the Federal and State laws and regulations which govern records of this type.
Ms. Ehrenreich quickly emailed me back and - to my surprise - claimed that there were no records reflecting that my client ever worked for Princess. I knew this was not true, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt. I double checked the spelling of my client's name and I also sent her my client's Princess crew member identification number! This would easily permit the records to be identified and retrieved.
Ms. Ehrenreich then refused to respond to my requests.
I continued on with the case against the cruise line in Miami. But it soon became apparent by the type of questions asked by the defense lawyer that his law firm had somehow obtained my client's confidential records from Princess in California. How could this be possible? Princess absolutely needed a signed and notarized authorization. To release medical records, the cruise line needed a HIPAA compliant release. Or Princess needed to be served with a subpoena. But the cruise line never obtained an authorization nor received a subpoena.
The Truth Comes Out
I asked the cruise line defense lawyer if Princess secretly sent him the records. He refused to respond. I served him with requests for my own client's records from Princess and any emails or letters from Princess. He objected. I pressed the issue further and threatened a Court hearing and sanctions. He caved in, admitting that Princess surreptitiously sent him the records behind my back.
I subsequently obtained evidence that when Ms. Ehrenreich received my email and told me that my client never worked at Princess, she sent an email to the defense lawyers in Miami and began communicating with them about my client. Then Princess sent all of my client's records to these lawyers, without a signed authorization or receipt of a subpoena!
A Cruise Line Without A Moral Rudder
If the top lawyer for a large corporation will flaunt ethical rules and Federal and State privacy rights, what does that say about the culture of that corporation? Who will protect the rights of cruise line employees, particularly crew members from foreign countries who can be easily exploited? Who will enforce a code of honesty and ethics?
Things are not as they seem on the Love Boat. Cruise lines like this develop an arrogance over the years. They don't pay U. S. taxes. They abuse their foreign crew members. They usually get away with things.
Duplicity and a lack of transparency characterize Princess Cruises. What can be expected from a cruise line whose General Counsel acts like this?
You will hear about this cruise line and Ms. Ehrenreich in the future, no doubt.
This month's award was won in a landslide. Princess Cruises and its General Counsel, Mona Ehrenreich, have more than earned their place as the first recipients of the "Worst Cruise Line in the World" award.
Worst Person Logo MSNBC, Countdown with Keith Olbermann
Photo of Star Princess Cruise Ship Jim Walker, Seattle WA July 4, 2009