Members of a California book club have claimed they were asked to leave a train during a group outing over the weekend because of their race.
The eleven club members, all but one of whom is African-American, told KTVU that they are considering legal action after they were ordered off the Napa Valley Wine Train Saturday afternoon. Their story became public Monday and stirred social media reaction, with many using the hashtag "#laughingwhileblack"
Wine train spokesman Sam Singer told the Associated Press train employees had asked the women to either quiet down or get off the wine train and accept a free bus ride back to their starting point.
"The book club clearly was fun-loving, boisterous and loud enough that it affected the experience of some of the passengers who were in the same car, who complained to staff," he said.
Book club member Lisa Renee Johnson, an author from Antioch, Calif., admitted to KTVU that a manager on the train repeatedly told the women they were laughing and talking too loudly, but insisted "we didn't do anything wrong."
The women said that servers and bartenders on the train apologized, telling them previous groups had been more rambunctious without being asked to leave.
Johnson said the train company contributed to the situation by selling them seats that were scattered throughout the car, even after the members made clear they were traveling as a group. The seating arrangement made conversation more difficult, Johnson said.
"Noise is going to come along with that," admitted Johnson, "and laughter, because it's fun! It's wine and not just a glass of wine, it's free-flowing wine."
Johnson chronicled the episode via cellphone videos. On Facebook, Twitter and Yelp on Monday, defenders of the women posted videos of other, past noisy groups celebrating on the wine train, which offers food and wine to passengers as they roll to Napa County wineries in updated Pullman cars.
"We were treated like we didn't belong there, and we paid our money just like everyone else," insisted Johnson, "if they cannot accommodate groups, they should not take our money as a group."
Wine-train employees marched the book club members through six railroad cars before escorting them off the train, the women said.
The company refunded the women's ticket money, Singer said.
On average, Singer said, individuals or groups are asked to get off the wine train once a month for one reason or the other. "It's not a question of bias," he said.
However, a police spokeswoman in the Napa Valley town of St. Helena, which the wine train summoned Saturday, said it was the first time she recalled the wine train seeking police help removing a large group.
The 11 women, one of them 83 years old, already were off the train when St. Helena police arrived, police spokeswoman Maria Gonzalez said.
"When we get off the train, the police are just standing there," described member Katherine Neal, "and they're looking at us like, 'these are the unruly people?'"
Wine train employees had called the police to deal with what they reported were "11 disruptive females," Gonzalez said. Police arrived at the railway siding and found "there was no crime being committed ... nobody was intoxicated, there were no issues." So officers left, Gonzalez said.
In the past, she said, the town's police had responded to wine-train calls to offload passengers because of domestic incidents on board or for fighting.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.