The group of mostly black women who were booted off the popular Napa Valley Wine Train for laughing loudly filed a $11 million lawsuit in federal court Thursday against the Wine Train alleging racial discrimination.
Reverend Amos Brown and two other members of the NAACP joined the 11 women —, all members of a book club, as they announced their eight claims on the steps of the federal building in San Francisco. "This is an atrocity that should not have occurred," Brown said.
"It's horrible, it really is," plaintiff Lisa Carr said. "The things that have happened to us. People don't think that it's real. It's absolutely real. People have reached out. People have been nasty. It's uncalled for."
Debbie Reynolds, one of the women removed from the train, told reporters at the press conference the incident had affected her livelihood. "To top it all off, the people who I worked with believed those things, and I've lost my job, and I'm the primary breadwinner for my family," Reynolds said.
The women are being represented by high-profile attorney Waukeen McCoy whose expertise includes civil rights cases. McCoy had initially said the group would sue if negotiations for a settlement with the Wine Train failed.
"The actions taken by the wine train were egregious," McCoy said, "This lawsuit highlights that blacks are still being treated differently in America."
The Napa Valley Wine Train — which was caught in the middle of a public relations nightmare after the incident was much-publicized on social media — was sold last month.
The family of Vincent Michael DeDomenico, the wine train’s founder, sold the train to Noble House Hotels & Resorts, a collection of luxury hotels and resorts that entered into a partnership with California-based real estate development and investment company Brooks Street for the purchase.
Wine Train spokesperson Sam Singer released a statement Thursday saying they had hired former FBI agent Rick Smith as an investigator to examine the incident.
“The Napa Valley Wine Train takes the allegations of discrimination very seriously. We are conducting our own investigation into the matter,” Singer’s statement said. “After the investigation has been conducted we will have the appropriate response to the complaint that has been filed seeking $11 million in damages."
The Wine Train’s CEO, Tony Giaccio, personally apologized to the women after their less than pleasant experience aboard the train, which one of them documented on Facebook through videos that went viral. It also prompted the #LaughingWhileBlack hashtag. Giaccio offered the women a chance to be his guests on the train along with their friends and family and promised more diversity training for his staff.
The apology didn’t help, with many saying they would boycott the train for what they claimed was racist behavior. The Wine Train's Facebook page continues to receive criticism from visitors.
The backlash resulted in the creation of a Napa Valley Soul train, which plans to offer rides to Latino and black-owned vineyards in the fall.