Natasha Tynes, a Jordanian American writer who had a book deal nixed after being accused of racism, is hitting back with a $13 million lawsuit against her publisher.
The troubles for the author and World Bank communications officer, who is based in Washington, D.C., began one morning in May when she called out a black Metro subway worker for eating on a train, posting a photo of the employee on Twitter and lodging a complaint.
“I thought we were not allowed to eat on the train,” she wrote, tagging the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and scolding the behavior by the black woman as “unacceptable.”
A separate account for the Metro service promptly responded, thanking Tynes “for catching all this and helping us to make sure all Metro employees are held accountable.”
Though Tynes quickly deleted her initial tweet and, according to The Washington Post, issued an apology, outrage had already begun to brew on social media where a screenshot of the post circulated. The writer was accused of bigotry, entitlement and targeting a black woman for having breakfast on the train ― an infraction of a Metro rule (albeit a rule frequently ignored by many Metro riders).
As a result, Los Angeles publisher Rare Bird Books canceled plans to distribute Tynes’ upcoming novel, “They Called Me Wyatt,” which was already being preordered. It urged its California Coldblood imprint ― a brand that operates under Rare Bird ― to do the same.
California Coldblood announced it would follow through with publication, citing “contractual obligations.” But it is releasing the book only through Amazon and Kindle’s self-publishing platforms, and any net proceeds will be given to the Movement for Black Lives Matter or similar groups.
According to Tynes’ lawsuit against Rare Bird obtained by BuzzFeed, the author experienced “extreme emotional distress” by the ordeal.
After the publisher released a statement condemning Tynes’ actions as “truly horrible” and accusing her of jeopardizing the Metro employee’s “safety and employment,” she was hospitalized for “an acute anxiety reaction and suicidal ideations,” the lawsuit said.
According to the suit, Tynes also “has been forced to temporarily leave the country for fear of persecution and harm to her family.” Her book, four years in the making, was “sabotaged” by Rare Bird and her character was defamed by the publisher, the suit alleges.
In an apparent attempt to mollify the uproar sparked by her complaint about the Metro worker, the suit noted that Tynes reached out to the transit authority on Twitter to ask that the employee not be disciplined ― the woman wasn’t ― and to say that, “I made an error in judgment by reporting her.”
She also told Rare Bird executive Robert Jason Peterson that since she hadn’t been raised in the U.S., the matter of race didn’t cross her mind when she wrote her original tweet. According to the suit, Peterson then assured her that he did not fault her, saying, “You’ll get through this, we’ve got your back.”
In a statement from Rare Bird sent to HuffPost on Sunday by attorney David Eisen, the publishing house called Tynes’ suit “baseless.”
“Rare Bird has never had any agreement of any kind with Ms. Tynes, nor has anyone from Rare Bird ever had any contact with her whatsoever, and Rare Bird’s statement about Ms. Tynes’ conduct was not defamatory,” he wrote in a statement.
“Ms. Tynes’ publisher, California Coldblood, arranged for Rare Bird to distribute the book,” he added. “As Rare Bird has stated previously, the company could not in good conscience be affiliated in any way with Ms. Tynes’ book, given her actions on social media.”
Rare Bird vowed that it would “expend all of the resources necessary to defeat this meritless litigation.”
In a response on Sunday night, Tynes’ lawyer, William Moran, took issue with Rare Bird’s statement that it had no agreement with Tynes. He provided a copy of the first page of a contract for Tynes’ book that shows Rare Bird Lit., Inc. listed as the rights holder, along with its address and phone number, rather than that of California Coldblood Books, LLC.
“The contract as a legal matter is with Rare Bird,” he said.
Tynes previously contributed to HuffPost’s former blog network.
This story has been updated with statements from Rare Bird and Tynes’ lawyer.