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Napa Valley Wine Train Apologizes for Booting Black Women’s Book Club: ‘We Were 100 Percent In the Wrong’

Posted on 26 August 2015 by

Photo by Hoberman Collection/UIG via Getty Images(NEW YORK) — The Napa Valley Wine Train CEO has apologized to the members of a predominantly black women’s book club whose alleged behavior got them booted from a California tour this weekend, according to a company news release.

The incident sparked outrage on social media after one of the 11 members of Sistahs on the Reading Edge, Lisa Renee Johnson, live-posted their removal Saturday on Facebook, using the hashtag #laughingwhileblack.

After customers complained the women were too noisy, a manager on the train “paraded” the women through six cars before forcing them to get off at the St. Helena station, where they were met by police from the St. Helena police department, according to Johnson.

“At no time were we loud with them,” fellow club member, Debbie Reynolds, told ABC News. “We were direct, and we asked questions, but at no time were we loud with them or inappropriate with them.”

Police were asked by the Wine Train to respond to the scene, but no arrests were made, “everything was peaceful ” and the women were given a free ride back to town, St. Helena Police Chief William Imboden told ABC News Tuesday.

Though the women were issued a full refund, Johnson wrote on Facebook that she was “angry and humiliated,” especially after the Napa Valley Wine Train wrote a Facebook post that said, in part, “Following verbal and physical abuse towards other guests and staff, it was necessary to get our police involved.”

“That is absolutely untrue,” Johnson said. “We have never, we never touched anybody.”

The post has since been removed, and the company is now apologizing for the women’s “terrible experience” and the “inaccurate post.”

“The Napa Valley Wine Train was 100 percent wrong in its handling of this issue,” Napa Valley Wine Train Inc. chief executive officer Anthony Giaccio said in the news release. “We accept full responsibility for our failures and for the chain of events that led to this regrettable treatment of our guests.”

Giaccio said he apologized to Johnson late Monday for the book club’s experience, pledging to learn from the incident and offering additional diversity training for employees.

Giaccio also said in the apology letter to the women, in part, “Clearly, we knew in advance when we booked your party that you would be loud, fun-loving and boisterous — because you told us during the booking process that you wanted a place where your Club could enjoy each other’s company. Somehow that vital information never made it to the appropriate channels and we failed to seat your group where you could enjoy yourself properly and alert our train’s staff that they should expect a particularly vibrant group.”

He admitted in the letter that the company was “insensitive when we asked you to depart our train by marching you down the aisle past all the other passengers” and that the company also “erred by placing an inaccurate post on our Facebook site that was not reflective of what actually occurred.”

He added, “In the haste to respond to criticism and news inquires, we made a bad situation worse by rushing to answer questions on social media. We quickly removed the inaccurate post, but the harm was done by our erroneous post.”

Giacco invited the book club members, their family and friends to be his guest and ride and fill an entire train car for free.

“Please accept my apologies for our many mistakes and failures,” he said. “We pride ourselves on our hospitality and our desire to please our guests on the Napa Valley Wine Train. In this instance, we failed in every measure of the meaning of good service, respect and hospitality.”

Johnson, the book club member who took to Facebook, did not immediately respond to ABC News’ requests for additional comment. So it’s unclear whether the book club members have accepted the company’s apologies and whether they would take up the CEO’s offer for a free ride on the train all to themselves.


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