Members of the Sistahs on the Reading Edge book club, who were kicked off California's Napa Valley Wine Train in August, have filed suit against the train's owners, seeking $11 million in damages, charging that they were singled out because the majority of the group is black and that they were humiliated for supposedly "being too loud," while intoxicated white passengers were allowed to stay.
The lawsuit also claims that the women—10 African American and one white—were defamed on social media after the company posted statements on Facebook and Twitter claiming that the women were boisterous and physically abusive.
According to SFGate, two of the reading-club members have lost their jobs because of the train incident.
"Blacks are still being treated differently in America," attorney Waukeen McCoy said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit, SFGate reports.
The book club members boarded the train Aug. 22 for their annual outing to enjoy the Napa Valley countryside while tasting wines. Into their trip, the women say, a manager approached them and claimed they were "laughing too loud." The manager left and then returned a little while later, warning them that if they didn't pipe down, they would be removed from the train.
Book club member Lisa Johnson, 47, told the manager that they weren't being louder than any of the passengers on the train and added that she believed they were being singled out because several members of the group were black.
SFGate reports that about an hour and a half into the trip, the manager ordered them off the train and told them that a police officer would be waiting. The women say that they were marched through all of the train cars as many guests snickered and jeered.
"We had to stand in the hot sun and have people on the train look at us as if we were criminals," Tira McDonald, 47, told SFGate. News of the incident went viral, sparking the hashtag #laughingwhileblack. The women reportedly wore black buttons with the hashtag.
According to SFGate, the wine train was sold last month, but the new owners are Noble House Hotels & Resorts of Seattle and Brooks Street, a real estate development and investment company, which would still be on the hook should the women win their case.
"That was the most humiliating experience that I have ever had in my entire life," Johnson said at the news conference, according to the Associated Press. "This is 2015, and this just cannot happen again."