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Fathom lawsuit claims violation of US Civil Rights Act

The complaint seeks class action status for Cuban Americans turned away from Fathom's Cuba cruises (Photo: Liz Gammon)
Two Cuban Americans who were turned away from booking a Fathom cruise to Cuba have filed suit against Carnival Corp., alleging their civil rights were violated.

South Floridians Amparo Sanchez and Francisco Marty's complaint cites the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in places of accommodation—that is, an 'establishment which provides lodging to transient guests.'

Fathom, which plans to sail from PortMiami with Adonia, qualifies as a public place of accommodation, according to the complaint.

By not taking reservations from individuals born in Cuba, Fathom and Carnival have 'adopted a policy to support Cuba's boycott of Cuban-born individuals from traveling to and from Cuba by ship' and are discriminating on the ground of national origin, the plaintiffs state.

When Sanchez and Marty, a V.I.P. cruiser with Carnival, were told they couldn't book because they're Cuban nationals, the Fathom reservation agent allegedly explained Carnival had been 'working on the issue for months' and did not want to lose its loyal customers.

The suit was filed in US federal court in Miami, and the plaintiffs seek class action status.

Carnival Corp. spokesman Roger Frizzell said 'any such lawsuit on this issue is without merit or substance.'

The prohibition of Cubans arriving to the island by ship is not a decision by the Fathom brand, but rather a Cuba decision, Frizzell said, and one that Carnival hopes can be changed through dialogue with Cuban officials.

'We travel to over 100 countries and feel everyone should have equal access to vacation with us, and we are requesting that the policy in Cuba be changed to allow transport by ships. There has been a policy change with air travel to Cuba, so we are hopeful that a similar change can also happen with travel by sea,' he added.

Frizzell noted other lines, such as Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, have applied to sail to Cuba. And operators such as MSC 'already face this regulation on their cruises to Cuba from outside the US.'

Ricardo Herrero, executive director of #CubaNow, a Miami-based group that supports dialogue with Cuba, told USA Today diplomacy is likely to have more success in effecting change than a legal battle. He said the ban of Cuban-born travelers by ship goes back to when Cubans started fleeing the island in boats and rafts, 'and the threat of those Cubans returning by sea to cause harm on the island was very real.'

The government has no problem with Cuban Americans visiting; hundreds of thousands fly between the US and Cuba every year, Herrero told USA Today. Reached by phone, Herrero said his comments to the paper stand.

The Fathom issue has emotions running high in Miami, where many Cuban Americans fled the Castro regime. On Tuesday afternoon, about 50 people picketed Carnival headquarters, and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez expressed the view that Fathom violates county human rights law.

In a sharply worded letter to Carnival Corp. chairman Micky Arison, the Cuban American Bar Association expressed its 'profound disappointment' in Carnival.

The letter said: 'The lack of sensitivity or concern for a significant group of persons who call Miami their home, a city whose port accommodates your vessels and serves your business, is an open-handed slap to our community.'

The plaintiffs are represented by Miami attorneys Robert W. Rodriguez of Robert W. Rodriguez P.A. and Thomas A. Tucker Ronzetti of Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton.