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Lawyer for booted book club says women considering lawsuit against Napa Valley Wine Train

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A San Francisco civil rights attorney said Monday the book club of 10 black women and one white woman that was kicked off the Napa Valley Wine Train for being too noisy is considering a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination.

Attorney Waukeen McCoy, who was hired last week by Sistahs of the Reading Edge Book Club, said similar lawsuits have brought up to $5 million in damages.

McCoy said an offer by Wine Train officials to host the women on another trip in a 50-seat private car was a “slap in the face” to his clients, who were humiliated by the incident.

He said the women want train employees to undergo sensitivity and diversity training so another group does not have the same experience. They also want financial compensation that was greater than the approximately $6,000-package offered by the train, McCoy said.

“I think it’s ridiculous for them to kick these women off the train and offer tickets to go back on it,” McCoy said.

McCoy said he was trying to arrange a meeting this week to discuss possible settlement terms.

Tony Giaccio, the train’s chief executive officer, did not return a call Monday seeking comment. A train spokesman, Kevin Keane, said the excursion company has not been contacted by the women’s attorney.

Giaccio last week apologized to the book club, saying the Wine Train was “100 percent wrong” in its handling of the issue. He offered at the time to put in place and take part in “additional cultural diversity sensitivity training.”

But if there’s no out-of-court resolution, McCoy said, he would sue under state laws prohibiting businesses from discriminating against customers based on race.

The law, the Unruh Civil Rights Act, allows for punitive damages to deter future abuses if it can be proven the business acted in a “malicious and oppressive way,” McCoy said.

“We’re exploring all claims that may be made in relation to this case,” McCoy said.

The incident happened Aug. 22 as the group of women were escorted off the train halfway through the trip. Train officials said other passengers complained the book club members were laughing too loudly and being disruptive.

Afterward, in their apology, train officials offered to host the group on a free trip.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ppayne.

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