A book club made up of mostly black women say they were racially targeted Saturday by a wine tour company that escorted them off a train for laughing too loudly.
Author Lisa Johnson told The Napa Valley Register newspaper that her book club, which included 10 black women and one white woman, was escorted off the Napa Valley Wine Train and met by local police officers after a maitre d’ twice warned them to quiet down.
“We thought the purpose of the Wine Train was to have a good time and enjoy being with a large group,” Johnson told the newspaper. “No one told us of any noise ordinance. If you get a group of 11 women talking and laughing, it’s going to be loud.”
The author chronicled the book club’s brief stay on the train, the maitre d’s complaints and the trip’s aftermath on her Facebook page. One of her posts read “All we were guilty of is #laughingwhileblack.”
At least three passengers on the train complained about her book club’s behavior, a spokeswoman for the tour company, Kira Devitt, told The Napa Valley Register. She added that it’s not uncommon for passengers to be removed from the train but couldn’t say how many times per year that happened.
A post to the Napa Valley Wine Train’s Facebook page, which Johnson got a screenshot of before it was deleted, cited “verbal and physical abuse” as the reason for the book club’s removal from the train.
“Following verbal and physical abuse towards other guests and staff, it was necessary to get our police involved,” the post read. “Many groups come on board and celebrate. When those celebrations impact our other guests, we do intervene.”
A Yelp review for the company that appeared to be written by a white passenger who rode the same train as Johnson’s book club painted a different picture of the incident.
“Definitely not an organization I would recommend or ever support again. I watched in disbelief as staff harassed a group of people who were merely drinking wine and laughing,” a woman named Danielle S. wrote. “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.”
Johnson told the newspaper that while her the book club members received refunds, they were still weighing whether to bring a lawsuit or civil rights complaint against the tour company.
“They need to look at their own policies. I feel like we as a group were made to bear the consequences of their not having policy on seating their customers,” she told The Napa Valley Register. “They need to give sensitivity training to their staff immediately. We want a public apology for how they treated us and for the public humiliation, which is unacceptable for anybody.”
Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at email@example.com.