Civil Rights Attorney Alleges Amtrak Conductor Tried to Make Her Move to Back of the Train

Eric Todisco

Civil rights attorney Sherrilyn Ifill is claiming that an Amtrak employee asked her to give up her seat to the back of the train during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend.

Ifill, who is head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, live-tweeted the incident on Friday, alleging that a conductor asked her to move her seat with no explanation while traveling from Washington D.C. to Baltimore.

“@Amtrak I’m being asked to leave my seat on train 80 which I just boarded in D.C,” Ifill wrote. “There are no assigned seats on this train. The conductor has asked me to leave my seat because she has ‘other people coming who she wants to give this seat.’ Can you please explain?”

In her next tweet, Ifill vowed, “I’ve made clear I’m not moving.”

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Ifill then explained to her Twitter followers in another message: “Just me. She said she has ppl ‘getting on at other stops.’ I said I’m getting off at the next stop. ‘Please follow me,’ she said. ‘I’ve found a seat for you.’ What???? No.”

In her next tweet on the matter, Ifill called the situation “bizarre.”

“I left the train at Baltimore and called over the lead conductor and the agent/conductor who attempted to remove me from my seat,” she explained. “I laid it out. She now said ‘she wanted to keep empty seats at the front.’ Me: ‘oh so there were no ‘special passengers.’ ”

“I laid out the facts and made clear that I know that it is absolutely contrary to policy and unacceptable to pick one passenger from an unassigned seat and demand she move,” she added. “Lead conductor (man) just has his mouth open. The woman agent/conductor now drops her head.”

Ifill said that the male lead conducted admitted that he had “no explanation” for the incident and that the female agent was “looking frankly, unwell.”

“What really disturbs me is how someone with this authority can just entirely make up something so ridiculous and approach a customer in this way,” she said. “I did wonder when she was carrying on – how far will I take this? And the immediate answer in my mind was ‘all the way.’ ”

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When a Twitter user pointed out the similarities from the civil rights history, Ifill replied, “When I was laying her out to the conductor at one point I said, ‘I can sit where I want,’ and thought – is it 1950?”

The next day, Ifill noted that Amtrak was now following her on Twitter but had yet to make a formal apology. Amtrak then tweeted to her, claiming that they had been trying to reach out to her via the information they had on file but were unable to reach her.

Later on, Ifill said that she talked to various officials at Amtrak who apologized for the incident.

“I will say that in my phone conversations this morning, @Amtrak officials were respectful, forthright and apologetic. And of course this is the rub. An act of public disrespect warrants a prompt public response. I think they knew this but it still wasn’t done.”

Ifill said in another tweet, “I am colossally disappointed in @Amtrak for both this incident & the way it was handled. But this is emblematic of how companies so often fail in this space.I will submit a more formal complaint & closely monitor the review of this incident & of the conduct of the employees.”

In her final tweet on the matter, Ifill thanked her followers for their support. “Keep fighting and honor #MLK this weekend. It’s about our individual dignity, the strength of our communities, and the integrity of our democracy,” she wrote.

A spokesperson for Amtrak did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.