The mostly black women from a book club who were kicked out of the Napa Valley Wine Train over the weekend were not the first ones to run into trouble while on the famous tour.
A Latina graduate student at the University of California-San Francisco’s nursing program claims she was the target of racial bias back in April, when she and her friends were threatened to be removed from the wine tasting tour for being noisy.
Norma Ruiz told Slate that she was celebrating her 28th birthday when a patron approached her party of 10 people to say they were being loud and annoying.
“We were kind of taken by surprise because we were just celebrating my birthday having normal conversation,” she said.
Ruiz, who described her party group as being made up of “all Latino individuals,” said a waiter told the group to continue their celebration. She said they moved to the dining car on their own before a woman from the train company approached them.
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Ruiz said the woman told the group that if they didn’t “control (their) level of noise” they would be kicked off the train. The nursing student noted to Slate that the group had quieted down to below the noise level of the dining car.
“We were not making noise, we felt very uncomfortable with the way we were being approached and (they were) embarrassing our group in front of everyone,” she added.
Ruiz said her group asked if they could be placed in an open car but their request was denied.
They were never removed from the train.
After the trip, she complained to Yelp and a spokesperson for the company apologized and invited her back.
However, Ruiz said she now sees the incident as one of racial bias.
“I think it was just that person complaining and then the manager, seeing that we were Latino, basically decided to discriminate (against) us,” Ruiz said. “Now that I hear about this event with a group of African-American ladies being kicked out of the train, I’m seeing a pattern. I’m realizing that how I was treated was not normal.”
The 11 members of the book club, all but one of whom is African-American, said rude employees ordered them off the train on Saturday, mid-journey, and marched them down several aisles to their embarrassment. One member of the group is 83.
"You can apologize, but you can't take away the experience we had," Lisa Johnson, an Antioch, California, author who has organized the group's outings to wine country for the last 17 years, told the Oakland Tribune. "We were still marched down the aisle of the train car to waiting police officers. I'm still traumatized by the whole experience."
The Napa Valley Wine Train issued an apology Tuesday to a book club that includes mostly black women who said they were booted from a tasting tour because of their race.
The company also promised additional training for employees on cultural diversity and sensitivity, and they offered the group free passes for 50 people for a future trip.
"The Napa Valley Wine Train was 100 percent wrong in its handling of this issue," CEO Anthony "Tony" Giaccio said in a statement. "We accept full responsibility for our failures and for the chain of events that led to this regrettable treatment of our guests."
Giaccio said he had a conversation with Johnson, a leader of the Sistahs on the Reading Edge Book Club, and offered the group the free passes for a reserved car "where you can enjoy yourselves as loudly as you desire."
"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."
The Associates Press contributed to this report.