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 incident left Tynes essentially stripped of a book deal, placed on leave from her job and hospitalized for multiple conditions, including suicidal thoughts, a lawsuit filed this week in the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles alleges.
Tynes made national and international headlines in May and was widely accused of racism after she tweeted and then deleted a photo of a black D.C. Metro transit employee eating on the train, which isagainst Metro’s policy.
Many on social media perceived Tynes’ actions as an unwarranted tattletale attack on a person of color, a position echoed by Rare Bird in a tweet announcing its intention to back out of its role in Tynes’ upcoming novel, “They Called Me Wyatt.”
That statement paved the way for widespread media attention that ruined Tynes’ reputation, the lawsuit claims.
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 quickly inaccessible tweet that started the controversy was published in a Washington Post report. It included a picture of a Metro worker and read in part: “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.'”
Tynes’ lawsuit contends that context shows she had no racist motivations.
“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.
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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.
Tynes “promptly deleted the tweet” and made attempts to ensure the employee pictured would not face repercussions, the lawsuit says. She did not believe the employee was identifiable in the photo and also thought no “employment action could ever be taken against a union transit worker for such a minor incident.”
The lawsuit contends that initially, a representative from Rare Bird did not object to her explanation: “Having not grown up in the United States, the issue of race had not even occurred” to Tynes.
But a later public statement on Twitter by Rare Bird described her actions as “truly horrible” and said “black women face a constant barrage of this kind of inappropriate behavior directed toward them and a constant policing of their bodies.”
The lawsuit says Tynes faced death threats and harassment on social media and – fearing for her safety – temporarily left the country. Meanwhile, Rare Bird enjoyed mostly positive reactions on social media and gained valuable public exposure, the lawsuit contends.
While Tynes was “hospitalized with chest pain, highly elevated blood pressure, hyperventilation, shakiness and suicidal ideations,” Rare Bird representatives repeatedly made contact with her and her family regarding their intent to distance themselves from the planned publication of her upcoming book, the lawsuit says.
A USA TODAY request for comment from a Rare Bird representative was not immediately returned.
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.
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