A group of women kicked off the Napa Valley Wine Train in August filed an $11 million racial discrimination lawsuit against the company Thursday.
The group of predominantly black women, many of whom are members of the Sistahs on the Reading Edge book club, said they suffered personal and professional consequences, and two of the women lost their jobs following the incident.
The women were “signaled out” from the moment they arrived on the train, Linda Carlson, the only white woman in the group, said at a news conference Thursday.
Civil rights attorney Waukeen Q. McCoy said the lawsuit “highlights that blacks are still being treated differently in America.”
“The goal of this lawsuit is to ensure that this sort of racial discrimination does not happen to anyone else,” McCoy said in a statement.
The group of 11 women boarded the Napa Valley Wine train on Aug. 22 to celebrate a birthday and discuss a book. The group said instead their trip was cut short, and the women were escorted through six train cars and greeted by police in the Napa Valley town of St. Helena.
“We were treated like we didn’t belong there, and we paid our money just like everyone else,” Lisa Renee Johnson told KTVU in August. “If they cannot accommodate groups, they should not take our money as a group.”
The group alleges that they were repeatedly told to “quiet down,” although staff said nothing to white passengers who were being just as loud, if not louder.
Shortly after the incident, the company posted on Facebook that the women were removed “following verbal and physical abuse towards other guests and staff.” The post was deleted, but the women said the damage was done.
Johnson chronicled the trip and what happened later on social media and used the hashtag #laughingwhileblack to describe her “humiliating” experience.
Following the incident, the company apologized to Johnson and the group, promised to implement enhanced sensitivity training, and offered the group a free ride, Sam Singer, a spokesman for the company, told USA TODAY Network in August.
The company’s CEO Anthony Giacco accepted, “full responsibility for its failures and for the chain of events that led to this regrettable treatment of the women,” according to Singer.
The women said the apology did not negate the negative backlash they endured sufficiently or address the racial discrimination.
The suit seeks $11 million in damages for racial discrimination, defamation and breach of contract.
In addition to the monetary damages, the group is seeking the “implementation of a racial sensitivity training program for the Wine Train management and staff, and the prevention of similar treatment to other minorities,” according to a statement.
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