Black Reading Club Kicked Off Napa Valley Train Files $11M Discrimination Lawsuit

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Five members of the Sistahs on the Reading Edge book club, from left: Katherine Neal, Georgia Lewis, Lisa Renee Johnson, Allisa Carr and Sandra Jamerson. (Carlos Fajardo/Rex Shutterstock)
Five members of the Sistahs on the Reading Edge book club, from left: Katherine Neal, Georgia Lewis, Lisa Renee Johnson, Allisa Carr and Sandra Jamerson. (Carlos Fajardo/Rex Shutterstocknenmnene

A group of predominantly Black women kicked off a train for allegedly laughing too loudly has filed a $11 million discrimination lawsuit against the train company.

The incident, which became a national media story, occurred last month when the book club members were ejected from the Napa Valley Wine Train for “laughing while black.” The group, which consisted of 10 Black women and one white woman, was removed from the train because of other passengers complaints. They were escorted off the train by armed police officers.

The group members said they felt humiliated by the experience and were made to feel like criminals. Lisa Renee Johnson, a member of the group, told The Guardian they decided to file the lawsuit to show that racism is still a problem in America.

“We feel it is really important for us to speak up,” Johnson said. “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.”

Johnson also said group members faced backlash from the media storm that developed around the story. The Napa Valley Wine Train company falsely alleged their workers suffered verbal and physical abuse during the incident. Two group members, a nurse and a financial services executive, both ended up losing their jobs.

“We want people to realize that this is our life and there have been very serious repercussions,” Johnson said.

Tony Giaccio, chief executive of the Napa Valley Wine Train, later admitted they were “100 percent” wrong in handling the situation and apologized to the group. He claimed the incident was not racially motivated.

The group is being represented by Waukeen McCoy, a prominent Bay Area civil rights attorney. McCoy said this was one of the worst cases of discrimination he had seen in 22 years.

“It is malicious in how [the train company] posted false statements about this group of women to say that these women were physically abusive,” said McCoy in an interview with The Guardian. “Not only were they kicked off the wine train for being black, they were defamed on social media. Two of the women lost their jobs as a result.”

Johnson told The Guardian that although the Napa Valley Wine Train apologized, no one has been punished over the incident.

“Nobody got fired, no one got reprimanded,” she said. “They don’t feel they did anything wrong. How can [we] accept that?”

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