The African-American book club that was booted from California's Napa Valley Wine Train Saturday for what has been dubbed "laughing while black" was given a public apology Tuesday from the company's CEO.
"The Napa Valley Wine Train was 100 percent wrong in its handling of this issue," Anthony "Tony" Giaccio said in a statement viewed by the Associated Press. "We accept full responsibility for our failures and for the chain of events that led to this regrettable treatment of our guests."
The company not only acknowledged wrongdoing in the incident, which began after the women say they were approached by a manager for laughing too loudly, but also offered the women a future trip, including free passes for a group of 50, and pledged to offer cultural diversity training for all train-company employees.
According to the Mercury News, the Sistahs on the Reading Edge Book Club—all members but one of whom are African American—was ordered from the train midtrip after a manager decided that the group's level of enjoyment was too loud for the surroundings.
"We didn't do anything wrong," club member Lisa Johnson told KTVU. Johnson added that the group had been taking the trip for the past 17 years and had never had a problem. She also noted that other groups were loud and having a good time, yet theirs was the only group asked to leave the train.
"We still feel this is about race," she said. "We were singled out."
Johnson told the Mercury News that despite the apology, she and the group members are still considering legal options, calling the incident "racially charged" and "disheartening." She added that not only was the group asked to leave, but its members were escorted down the aisle through each train car in front of all the other passengers before being handed over to waiting authorities.
"It was the most humiliating and embarrassing experience I've ever had," she said.
Giaccio noted in his statement that though the walk through the train was the safest route, it was also the most insensitive.
"We were insensitive when we asked you to depart our train by marching you down the aisle past all the other passengers," he said in his letter. "While that was the safest route for disembarking, it showed a lack of sensitivity on our part."
Giaccio added that he had spoken with Johnson and also offered the group complete usage of a reserved car free of charge, adding, "where you can enjoy yourselves as loudly as you desire."
But Johnson told the news station that several other wine-train companies have contacted her, assuring her that the book club is more than welcome to ride with them.
On Saturday, shortly after the group took its complaints about its treatment during the train ride to social media, a message posted to the wine tour's Facebook page claimed that the women were abusive to staff, a claim that Johnson denies.
The Facebook post was deleted, and Johnson told the Mercury News that her group was not verbally or physically abusive to staff.
"It was a defamation of our character," Johnson said. "Laughing while black—that's the only thing we were guilty of."