Amtrak has apologized to a prominent African American civil rights attorney who said she was asked by a conductor to surrender her seat on a train just before the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.
Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said on Twitter the incident occurred Friday after she boarded the train in Washington, D.C. and was asked to move from her unassigned seat by a conductor who said she had “other people coming.”
Ifill, who was traveling to Baltimore, refused to give up her seat and posted a series of widely shared tweets about the encounter.
Some observers on social media said the episode echoed the experience of Rosa Parks, who famously refused to give up her seat to a white man on a public Montgomery, Alabama, bus in 1955. Ifill herself made an oblique reference to Parks on Twitter, saying, “is it 1950?”
The morning after the incident, Ifill tweeted that she had yet to hear from Amtrak.
Amtrak apologized to Ifill via Twitter later on Saturday, saying, “We sincerely apologize for the miscommunication & inconvenience and are investigating.”
What Ifill says happened
Ifill said the episode occurred late Friday afternoon right after she boarded the train.
“There are no assigned seats on this train,” she told her 166,000 Twitter followers. “The conductor has asked me to leave my seat because she has ‘other people coming who she wants to give this seat’,” adding that she’d like an explanation from Amtrak.
Ifill said the conductor told her she had passengers “getting on at other stops.” After Ifill responded that she was getting off at the next stop, she said the conductor told her, “follow me. I’ve found a seat for you.”
Ifill said she stayed put. Once the train reached Baltimore Ifill said she spoke to a lead conductor and the conductor in question, who then said “she wanted to keep empty seats at the front.”
“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,” Ifill tweeted.
Ifill also noted the incident took place on the eve of “MLK weekend,” which she called a “sacred time” for her.
CNN has attempted to reach Ifill for further comment.
In an email to CNN, a spokesman for Amtrak said the company “attempted numerous times to reach Ms. Ifill” on Friday night, but were not able to connect with her until Saturday morning.
“We should have responded publicly sooner, and we apologized for the incident and our slow response,” said spokesman Jason Abrams. “Amtrak is looking into the matter more closely so that we can prevent situations like this going forward.”
Amtrak tweeted at Ifill on Saturday morning, apologizing and saying the company is “investigating.”
“This has been a lesson for us. As of today, we’re changing our policy about how we respond on social media to ensure we’re faster and more transparent,” the company tweeted.
Ifill said Saturday on Twitter that she had spoken to various officials at Amtrak who were “respectful, forthright and apologetic” but added she is “colossally disappointed” in the company for the incident and how it was handled.
“I will submit a more formal complaint & closely monitor the review of this incident & of the conduct of the employees,” she tweeted.
CNN’s Anna Sturla contributed to this report.