NAPA COUNTY (CBS SF) — Members of a mostly African American book club kicked off the Napa Valley Wine Train for laughing too loud plan to seek up to $5 million.
Civil rights lawyer Waukeen McCoy, representing the 11 woman with Sistahs of the Reading Edge Book Club, told the San Francisco Chronicle “there must be compensation for the humiliation suffered.”
The Wine Train CEO issued a public apology to the group last week which said his staff “100 percent wrong in its handling of this issue.” He then offered the group a private 50-seat train car to themselves — an over $6,000 value — to make up for the incident.
But McCoy said that’s not going to resolve the “malicious oppression” that occurred.
“This was clearly racial discrimination,” he said, adding that similar discrimination cases for settled for up to $5 million. “We don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”
Club member Lisa Johnson had chronicled the group’s ejection on Facebook. She had initially set out to post pictures of her book club’s outing on the luxurious train — which serves wine and appetizers on a roughly three-hour tour of the Napa Valley — but created a social media frenzy when her posts chronicled the group’s ejection from the train.
The women were warned early on they would have to be quieter, and while Johnson said they tried to keep their voices down, they were seated in such a way that it was difficult for some women to talk to each other without raising their voices.
Furthermore, with such a large group, they often laughed while enjoying each other’s company, and if they all laughed at once, it was loud.
Other passengers on the train struck up conversations with the book club members, stopping by when they noticed their matching T-shirts, Johnson said.
The group has met in and around Antioch for about 17 years to discuss books and encourage reading.
But some guests did not appreciate their enthusiasm the same way, and an employee of the train returned and said if they didn’t quiet down they would have to leave the train. A passenger seated nearby commented, “This is not a bar” to them, according to Johnson.
A short time later, they were told police would be waiting at the St. Helena station to escort them off the train.
Johnson said she was left feeling angry and humiliated as the group was escorted through nearly every train car to the waiting officers.
She said even the police officers outside were surprised by the group they encountered, which included an 85-year-old grandmother.
“In this instance, we failed in every measure of the meaning of good service, respect and hospitality,” wine train CEO Anthony Giacco said.
In particular, he said staff on the wine train should have been prepared to accommodate a large and vibrant group and that he did not understand the humiliation of having the ejected group taken down the aisle until Johnson explained it to him.
To address the problem, he said that all staff at the wine train would receive diversity and sensitivity training and he would participate himself.
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