When the women in the Sistahs on the Reading Edge book club were thrown off a train touring Napa Valley wineries last August after they were laughing loudly, accusations of racial bias, a hashtag and headlines soon followed. So did a lawsuit, claiming millions in damages. Now the matter has been settled in mediation, and the women want to move on.
One of the women, Lisa Johnson, of Antioch, Calif., said Wednesday that she could not discuss financial details of the settlement that was reached through private mediation last Thursday with the company, the Napa Valley Wine Train. “The matter was resolved on terms acceptable to all parties last week,” Ms. Johnson said.
The group of 11 women, 10 of them black and one white, filed the lawsuit two months after the episode in August, when the group was escorted off the train for laughing and talking too loudly, then met by police officers at the station where they disembarked. The confrontation went viral and inspired the hashtag #LaughingWhileBlack, where people shared stories of racial bias, particularly that encountered while traveling. The group sought $11 million in damages from the company after two of the women claimed they had lost their jobs as a result of the fallout, The San Jose Mercury News reported.
Since the news of the settlement, Ms. Johnson, an author and life coach, said that people have been supportive on social media, and that the book club has seen more requests to join than usual. But she has also noticed an uptick in racially charged comments directed at the group on social media. In an email, she shared an example of some of the posts left on her public Facebook page: “Good old ghetto behavior — have you no shame? Can’t you control yourselves?” the post read.
“We all have biases,” Ms. Johnson said, adding that “finding the courage to behave differently is the conversation” many Americans should be having.
The Napa Valley Wine Train, which did not immediately return a request for comment on Wednesday, claimed last August that it was not racial bias but “acute insensitivity” that motivated staff members to remove the women from the train. A spokesman for the company, Sam Singer, said then that passengers are removed around once a month. The wine train company found itself backtracking after a Facebook post that accused the women of physical and verbal abuse turned out to be wrong and was deleted.
Ms. Johnson said that the book club was looking forward to returning to normal. She said the group meets on the fourth Sunday of every month and plans a yearly visit to Napa Valley. Another jaunt on the wine train is not in the works, however.
“I think we’re going to stick to limousines as our designated driver,” Ms. Johnson said.