The East Bay women's book club who were unceremoniously removed from the Napa Valley Wine Train on Saturday, August 22 after allegedly being too loud and disruptive for other guests are now officially suing the train's operator for $11 million for what they believe was racial discrimination and "malicious oppression." Earlier there had been hints of a possible $5 million civil suit, and it seems like any negotiations to try to settle this without a suit have failed. As the Chronicle reports, the ten African American women and one white woman and their attorney Waukeen McCoy have scheduled a news conference in San Francisco today to announce the lawsuit.
The Wine Train was just sold last month to a new operator, Seattle-based Noble House Hotels & Resorts, Ltd., in partnership with a Walnut Creek-based real estate and investment firm, and the new owners say they've hired former FBI agent Rick Smith as an investigator to examine the incident.
PR consultant Sam Singer's office issued a brief statement about the investigation today, saying, "After the investigation has been conducted we will have the appropriate response to the complaint that has been filed." It should be noted that Singer's office also was quick to issue a correction two weeks ago, in SFist's post about the sale of the train, making sure that it was clear that no legal complaint had yet been filed. But now it has.
The women, part of the Sistahs on the Reading Edge book club, the oldest of whom is 83, had planned the outing for their group for months, and were halfway through the three-hour, sight-seeing and wine-sipping round-trip when they were escorted off the train by train staff who have said they'd already warned the women that they were being too loud. At least one witness, on Yelp, Danielle S. of Seattle, said at the time, "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."
The humiliated women, one of whom created a social media dustup the day it happened launching the hashtag #LaughingWhileBlack, will now need to prove that discrimination came into play.
An earlier effort by the Wine Train to offer the women a private car and a complimentary party for 39 guests was refused.
Wine Train CEO Anthony “Tony” Giaccio already issued a formal apology admitting "The Napa Valley Wine Train was 100 percent wrong in its handling of this issue. We accept full responsibility for our failures and for the chain of events that led to this regrettable treatment of our guests.”
The company has maintained, however, that groups or individuals are removed from the train for drinking behavioral reasons about once a month.