Napa Valley Wine Train CEO: We Were Wrong to Remove Black Women's Group

CEO apologizes to African American women's book club, which was removed from the train due to noise complaints.

Today, the CEO of the Napa Valley Wine Train in Napa, CA, apologized to the Sisters on the Reading Edge Book Club who were removed from the train on Saturday, Aug. 22, after other train passengers complained about the loudness of the group, and after the group took to social media to complain about their experience.

"The Napa Valley Wine Train was 100-percent wrong in its handling of this issue," said Napa Valley Wine Train CEO Anthony "Tony" Giaccio. "We accept full responsibility for our failures and for the chain of events that led to this regrettable treatment of our guests."

The group of 11 black women were escorted from the train in St. Helena, CA, and transported back to Napa and given refunds--an experience that the group found humiliating. 

Following the incident on Saturday, Lisa Johnson, a book club leader, took to social media, posting images of a passenger who was annoyed at the group for laughing too loudly and a Facebook post from the Napa Valley Wine Train saying "Many groups come on board and celebrate. When those celebrations impact our other guests, we do intervene." The group also launched a hashtag, #laughingwhileblack, to chronicle the incident.

Giaccio spoke with Johnson, on Monday, Aug. 24, and apologized for the book club's experience, saying he and the company plan to learn from the incident and will offer additional diversity training for employees. He also invited the club members, their family, and friends to be his guests and fill an entire train car. 

He also wrote an apology letter to the club saying, "I want to apologize for your experience on the Napa Valley Wine Train on Saturday, Aug. 22. We accept full responsibility for our failures and the entire chain of unfortunate events you experienced."

Giaccio's letter also included the following: 

"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." 

"We were insensitive when we asked you to depart our train by marching you down the aisle past all the other passengers. While that was the safest route for disembarking, it showed a lack of sensitivity on our part that I did not fully conceive of until you explained the humiliation of the experience and how it impacted you and your fellow book club members."

Following the news of the book club's recent experience, another group has spoken about a recent case of racial bias on the Napa Valley Wine Train. In an article with Slate, Norma Ruiz, a graduate student from the University of California-San Francisco's nursing program, said a similar incident took place during her 28th birthday celebration in April, with her group, made up of 10 Latino individuals.