June 9, 2019– Mary Greeley News – An author whose publisher censured her after she tweeted a photo of a Washington subway worker eating during a break has filed a lawsuit against the California literary firm.
Jordanian-American author Natasha Tynes is suing book publisher Rare Bird Lit. Inc., for more than $13 million in damages, alleging the company defamed her and breached a publishing contract amid a social media shaming scandal in May.
The suit, filed Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, blames the response of L.A.-based publisher Rare Bird Books to Natasha Tynes’ May 10 tweet for the writer’s reputation being “permanently ruined,” according to the document.
Rare Bird did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The tweet, since deleted, accompanied a photo of a black transit worker eating on a break.
Tynes, a Jordanian American writer and World Bank employee in Washington, tweeted a photo of the woman Friday, showing the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority employee in uniform, eating on the Red Line. Tynes tagged the WMATA account, reporting that when she confronted the woman for breaking Metro rules, the woman replied, “worry about yourself.”
“When you’re on your morning commute & see @wmata employee in UNIFORM eating on the train,” Tynes tweeted. “I thought we were not allowed to eat on the train. This is unacceptable. Hope @wmata responds.”
The backlash was swift on social media with some people decrying Tynes’s tweet as racist, calling out the self-described “minority writer” for shaming a black woman and potentially getting her into trouble. Even Tynes’s book distributor took issue with her targeting a woman of color in such a public way.
In the aftermath of the controversy of the Metro worker who was photographed eating a takeout meal while in uniform on a subway car, it was revealed the head of Metro Transit Police had quietly sent a notice last Wednesday ordering officers to not enforce the laws against fare evasion, eating drinking, spitting and loud music.
Tynes’ lawsuit outlines her position: That Rare Bird, “an all-white company,” inaccurately painted her, an “immigrant woman of color,” as racist and benefited off the public backlash.
The Washington Metro transit authority expressed appreciation and asked for time markers that might help it track the employee down. But a backlash against Tynes was swift, with University of New Hampshire professor Chanda Prescod-Weinstein summing up the feelings of many: “Eating while Black.”
Rare Bird said last month it would no longer distribute Tynes’ forthcoming novel, “They Called Me Wyatt,” which was set to be published on Rare Bird imprint California Coldblood Books.
The book is about a Jordanian student who is murdered and realizes that her “consciousness” has inhabited Wyatt, a 3-year-old boy with speech delays, according to the synopsis.
Rare Bird Books said in a statement Friday that it had learned the author “did something truly horrible today in tweeting a picture of a metro worker eating her breakfast on the train this morning and drawing attention to her employer. Black women face a constant barrage of this kind of inappropriate behavior directed toward them and a constant policing of their bodies.
The suit suggests this sparked a cascade of negative consequences, including Tynes’ being placed on leave at her job at the World Bank in Washington, hospitalization for chest pain, death threats, high blood pressure, suicidal thoughts, a temporary move out of the country to Jordan, persecution of her family and nullifying the four years of work she put into the book.
“Plaintiff would receive threats to her physical safety and the physical safety of her family via Facebook and Twitter,” the lawsuit says.
Metro is going to get worse and worse https://t.co/lOd6Mus9Z6
— Unsuck DC Metro (@unsuckdcmetro) May 14, 2019
The filing alleges that Rare Bird’s pullback amounts to a breach of a contract after a pledge to produce the book in hardcover, paperback and digital editions available beginning Tuesday.
The defendant decided to ultimately only publish “They Called Me Wyatt” digitally, according to the filing.
The lawsuit calls Tynes’ tweet an expression of frustration because she has limited time and three children to care for and rarely finds time to eat during her workdays. “She always assumed a Metro employee would ticket her if she did” eat on a train.
“She always goes into the afternoon on an empty stomach,” the filing reads.
The lawsuit says Tynes reached out to Washington Metro to make sure the worker was not disciplined. She wasn’t because she was eating on a break, according to her union.
The filing says Tynes is a Jordanian immigrant and woman of color who never thought of her tweet as racist. Nonetheless, she apologized the day after she sent the tweet.
Tynes seeks $13,440,000 in damages.
“Natasha has spoken out about the scourge of racism and bigotry and has been subjected to racism over the years as a result of her Jordanian heritage and her prominent accent,” the lawsuit says.
She is an award-winning author, a mother and an activist who has faced government prosecution in Egypt for her work in defense of “free speech and a free press,” the lawsuit says.
A statement from Tynes’ attorney William Moran of the law-firm Hawgood, Hawgood & Moran LLP reads:
Natasha Tynes was falsely and maliciously accused of being a racist and of threatening the physical safety of a black woman by a publisher who knew better. Hours before, the publisher was well aware that my client had pleaded with WMATA not to discipline the employee and told her that “we’ve got your back.” Well, my client still has the knife sticking out of her back. I have never seen a publisher throw one of their authors under the bus like this and knowingly destroy their lives on false pretenses.
Days later, while she was under medical care, the publisher tried aggressively to get her to sign away her rights.
My client was wronged and we expect to prevail in this matter.
credit: In part with https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/author-who-reported-metro-worker-eating-train-sues-publisher-n1015481