Author who reported Metro worker for eating on a train sues publisher

"She always goes into the afternoon on an empty stomach," the suit says of plaintiff Natasha Tynes.
Image: Metro trains arrive at the Gallery Place-Chinatown Station in Washington, D.C., on March 15, 2016.
Metro trains arrive at the Gallery Place-Chinatown Station in Washington, D.C., on March 15, 2016.Joshua Roberts / Reuters file

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By Dennis Romero

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.

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 said Sunday it never had an agreement with Tynes, and its comment about her conduct was not defamatory.

"It is ironic, having taken advantage of her First Amendment rights with an ill-advised tweet, Ms. Tynes now seeks to stifle and punish use of those very same rights of a respected book publisher who legitimately expressed its opinions of her conduct, rather than take responsibility for her own actions," it said in a statement.

The tweet, since deleted, accompanied a photo of a black transit worker eating on a break.

"When you're on your morning commute & see @wmata employee in UNIFORM eating on the train. I thought we were not allowed to eat on the train. This is unacceptable. Hope @wmata responds. When I asked the employee about this, her response was, 'worry about yourself.'"

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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.

"Black women face a constant barrage of this kind of inappropriate behavior directed toward them and a constant policing of their bodies," the publishing company said in a statement,

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.

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.

Rare Bird decided to ultimately publish "They Called Me Wyatt" only 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.

She is seeking $13,440,000 in damages.