African American women kicked off Napa Wine Train file $11m racial discrimination suit

By Updated at 2015-10-01 18:48:44 +0000

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A group of predominantly African American women who were kicked off the Napa Wine Train in late August -- allegedly for being too loud -- will announce Thursday that they are filing a lawsuit that alleges racial discrimination and seeks $11 million in damages.

The move comes despite an apology from the company's chief executive, a promise of enhanced sensitivity training for workers and an offer to the women, members of the Sistahs on the Reading Edge book club, of a ride in a private car that could accommodate nearly 40 people.

Lisa Renee Johnson, a member of the club, had previously said the apology was insufficient, likely spurred only by concerns about bad publicity, and that what the women believe were racial aspects of the incident were not addressed.

“It’s not going to make us feel less humiliated,” she said in late August. “It just had those really ugly racial undertones from the very beginning,” Johnson said.

The women, who all live in Antioch, east of San Francisco, have retained Waukeen McCoy, a San Francisco attorney. In a release posted on PRNewswire, McCoy's firm said he would be joined at a 10 a.m. news conference by members of the NAACP, as well as the 11 women who are filing suit.

In a statement, Sam Singer, a spokesman for the Napa Valley Wine Train, said the company "takes the allegations of discrimination very seriously, and is conducting its own investigation.

"After the investigation has been conducted we will have the appropriate response to the complaint that is being filed seeking $11 million in damages," he said.

He said the company was sold on Sept. 15 and "the new owner is honored to continue to improve and build upon the Napa Valley Wine Train experience."

Public backlash against the company began after Johnson posted photographs and comments on Facebook describing the moment she and 10 other women were kicked off the train and told by employees they were laughing too loud.

Singer had previously said that while the company regretted the way the women were treated, guests are removed monthly for loud or rowdy behavior and most of them are not African American.

According to Johnson's account, the women had boarded the train on a Saturday morning, and were sipping wine and eating cheese as they traveled. However, two hours later, train workers told the women that other passengers had complained about their noise level and that it had become a problem.

The women were told to leave because they were too loud. At least one passenger scolded the women, saying, “This is not a bar,” according to Johnson's Facebook page.

About 1 p.m., the women were met by police officers and given a bus ride back to the station. The group was escorted through six train cars “on display in front of the other guests to waiting police like we were criminals,” Johnson wrote. “One word. UNACCEPTABLE! This can NEVER happen to anyone else ever again.”

Johnson blamed racial bias, saying the group was kicked off the train because most of them are African American. She said they were guilty of "laughing while black.” The hashtag #laughingwhileblack, which Johnson used on her Facebook page, took off on social media, with many vowing to boycott the wine train.