Discrimination Lawsuit Settled For Black Women’s Book Club Members Booted From Napa Valley Train

The case of the mostly black women’s book club who was booted from the Napa Valley Wine Train for “laughing while black” has now been settled for an undisclosed amount. Initially, the group sued for $11 million after being escorted from the train last August for allegedly being too loud. Ten of the members are black, and one is white.

“Sistahs on the Reading Edge Book Club” came to an “amicable settlement” with the train company just six months after filing a lawsuit in Northern California, per the group’s attorney, Waukeen McCoy, noted Reuters.

“We hope that other businesses learn from this case and implement diversity and sensitivity training for employees.”

It all started on Saturday, August 22, when the women got together to enjoy each other’s company and the Napa Valley. Their group was large, and for them, it was all about having fun and discussing a romance novel.

The women said they were enjoying themselves, and as they laughed with other passengers, the train manager asked them to lower their voices. The manager then returned a second time and told the women that they would be removed from the train. When the train reached St. Helena, they were escorted off and met by police from the Napa Valley Railroad. One of the members was then 83 years old, and another was recovering from knee surgery. The company refunded the women’s fares, but they insisted they had done nothing wrong.

In a statement, on August 23, the train company accused two of the women of being verbally and physically abusive to other passengers. Shortly thereafter, the post was deleted, but not before a member, Lisa Johnson, took a screenshot and posted it to her Facebook page, along with pictures of the women standing near the train in St. Helena.

Napa Valley Wine Train Company statement, August 23, 2015. [Source: Facebook]

The women accused the train company of violating their civil rights, and two stated they lost their jobs because of the defamatory statements the company made. A formal complaint stated why the incident may have occurred, per the Daily Mail.

“African-American adults are more likely to be shushed at, stared at, and kicked out of places where white people perceive that they do not fit.”

Backlash increased against the train company, and three days later, a public apology was made by CEO Anthony Giaccio. The company also hired San Singer, a renowned public relations specialist. The hashtag #laughingwhileblack also trended on Twitter.

Seventeen years of meeting around the Antioch area was a tradition for the “Sistahs.” Occasionally, they took short trips together but said they were singled out on the train for being too loud and disturbing other customers.

Johnson said it was necessary to raise their voices so that they could hear each other. She added that this was because they were seated in an “L” shape, making it difficult for the women on the ends to be heard. When making the reservation, she stated the wine train staff assured her that it could handle a group of 11. Although Johnson started out with documenting a friendly group of book lovers on her Facebook page, she soon began posting the details of their removal from the train.

She and other members said it was humiliating to be marched through six crowded cars of passengers, who stared, as the group was removed from the train and met by law enforcement officials. The apology was, seemingly, too little too late, although Giacco said he would provide diversity training for staff and offered to host the group again. Johnson and others said that they were traumatized by the entire incident.

Before the discrimination lawsuit was settled, Giacco stated his company was 100 percent wrong.

[Photo by Jeff Chiu/AP]