The Chief Executive Officer of the Napa Valley Wine Train did the right thing Tuesday and apologized to 11 black women who were unceremoniously ushered off the Wine Train last weekend for allegedly talking too loud.
The incident has gone viral on social media and has sparked discussions on Black radio and mainstream media with some people claiming the women were treated shabbily because they were Black while others thought they were playing the ‘race card’ until witnesses on the same train supported them and stories of other groups being shushed but not thrown off the Wine Train in other trips were revealed.
There’s no doubt that Wine Train officials moved quickly to suppress a public relations disaster caused by a barrage of criticism, but now it’s clear that the women – which included an 83-year-old grandmother — were unfairly targeted by Wine Train staff.
“We were 100 percent wrong in its handling of this issue,” Wine Train CEO Anthony “Tony” Giaccio said in a statement Tuesday. “We accept full responsibility for our failures and for the chain of events that led to this regrettable treatment of our guests.”
Giaccio said in his statement that he had spoken to one of the women involved, Lisa Johnson, who shared the incident as it happened via her Facebook page, and apologized for the incident saying his company made “many mistakes and failures.”
“We pride ourselves our hospitality and our desire to please our guests on the Napa Valley Wine Train,” Giaccio said. “In this instance, we failed in every measure of the meaning of good service, respect and hospitality.”
But Johnson told reporters that she is still traumatized by the incident and told MSNBC.com that she does not accept the apology.
“It was humiliating. I’m really offended to be quite honest,” said Johnson, 47, who was among the 11 black women who were herded off the train and promptly met by railroad police. “I felt like it was a racist attack on us. I feel like we were being singled out.”
Johnson said members of her group, “Sistahs on the Reading Edge Book Club,” were targeted because they were simply “laughing while Black.”
There were so many ways Wine Train officials could have handled this situation, but forcing the women off the train, a group that included an 83-year-old grandmother, is deplorable and just bad business.
Wine train officials said the women were laughing too loud and were told three times to keep the noise down. Officials said the women were not drunk but ordered them off the train anyway, citing a standing policy about excessive noise. Train officials then posted this message on the Wine Train Facebook page.
“Following verbal and physical abuse toward other guests and staff, it was necessary to get our police involved. Many groups come on board and celebrate. When those celebrations impact our guests, we do intervene.”
Giaccio disputed the account in the company’s Facebook post, saying a junior member of the staff wrote an inaccurate description of the events. Giaccio’s apology read, 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.
We were insensitive when we asked you to depart our train by marching you down the aisle past all the other passengers,” Giaccio wrote on his apology letter. “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.
Giaccio apology falls short given that other ‘loud,’ ‘boisterous’ groups in previous rides were not asked to leave the train, but he said he would make sure employees received more diversity and sensitivity training – and he invited Johnson, the entire book club, and 39 of their chosen guests who would have an entire train car to themselves, back aboard the Wine Train, this time as his personal guests.
We can’t change what happened on the train: The women were treated horribly because they were Black and the staff should be reprimanded. But Giaccio has apologized and wants to move forward. Perhaps Johnson and the book club should accept Giaccio’s complimentary offer and enjoy the luxurious Wine Train experience they were seeking all along.
What do you think?
(Photo: Lisa Renee Johnson Facebook)