Women who got kicked off the Napa Valley Wine Train for #laughingwhileblack are taking their battle to court in a big way

It’s near-impossible to imagine a book club of awesome older ladies tossing back a few glasses of vino getting into THAT much trouble, but that’s exactly what happened this summer to The Sistahs on the Reading Edge. The 11 members of the book club, 10 black and one white, women spanning four decades in age (the younger members are in their 50s, the eldest is 85),  were on the Napa Valley Wine Train as part of an annual trip the group has taken through wine country for the past 17 years. The club was drinking wine, snacking on apps, and talking and laughing, like you do in wine country. As The Guardian reports, though the Sistahs on the Reading Edge weren’t talking/laughing any louder than anyone else on the train, noise complaints were lodged against the group, which resulted in the club being kicked off the train.

As passenger Danielle S. described the incident in her Yelp review shortly thereafter:

“I watched in disbelief as staff harassed a group of people who were merely drinking wine and laughing. I’d like to think it wasn’t a racially motivated act, but given the fact that other, non-black guests were behaving in the same way and not removed, I can only conclude that it was discrimination. This business belongs in the ‘what is wrong with our country’ category.”

One of the group members, Lisa Renee Johnson, tweeted about the experience:

The refund really wasn’t enough. In the media blitz that followed the train incident, two of the eleven women lost their jobs, one as a nurse and the other as a financial services executive. This humiliating incident has had lasting repercussions, and that is why, as The Guardian reports, the women are now suing the Napa Valley Wine Train for $11 million.

“We feel it is really important for us to speak up,” Johnson told The Guardian this week. “Racism is something we are going through as a country. We hope that as a result of this [lawsuit], people will start to look more at their internal biases… We want people to realise that this is our life and there have been very serious repercussions.”

Their lawyer, Waukeen McCoy believes their case is, as The Guardian puts it, “one of the most egregious he had come across in 22 years of practice ”

“It is malicious in how [the train company] posted false statements about this group of women to say that these women were physically abusive,” McCoy said, referring to the claims the Napa Valley Wine Train’s Facebook page made in the wake of the book club’s removal from the train, citing the women as engaging in “verbal and physical abuse towards other guests and staff.”

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the train’s CEO Tony Giaccio did contact the book club to apologize.

“The Napa Valley Wine Train was 100 percent wrong in its handling of this issue,” Giaccio explained in a letter. “We accept full responsibility for our failures and for the chain of events that led to this regrettable treatment of our guests.”

Still, the damage had been done, and now the book club is looking for recompense.

“Nobody got fired, no one go reprimanded,” Johnson told The Guardian. “They don’t feel they did anything wrong. How can [we] accept that?”

We’re so glad these women are standing up for themselves in such a huge way. This whole situation is such an unsettling reminder of how subversive and insidious racism can be, and we hope that, in fighting back against this unacceptable treatment, this book club is able to raise awareness and ensure that this kind of terrible behavior goes the way of the dinosaurs.


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