Courtney Milan Suspended by RWA, Banned from Leadership

Romance Writers of America has disciplined author Courtney Milan in response to a pair of complaints after finding that she violated a section of its Code of Ethics by “Repeatedly or intentionally engaging in conduct injurious to RWA or its purposes.”

(If Milan’s name rings a bell, earlier in 2019 File 770 covered Milan’s work to expose the #CopyPasteCris plagiarism case, see item #1 here.)

The RWA report summarized the complaints as follows:

Suzan Tisdale outlined the allegations in a letter to the RWA Board Members and Ethics Committee, received by the Executive Director, and supported the allegations with a stream of social media posts that disparaged Ms. Tisdale, her publishing company (Glenfinnan Publishing), and several of her acquiring editors. Most particularly, Ms. Tisdale and her associates were accused of being racists in derogatory terms….

The committee received a corollary complaint filed by member Kathryn Lynn Davis against fellow member Courtney Milan, alleging several violations of the RWA Code of Ethics, and alleging the consequence of which was the loss of a three-book contract.  

The committee recommended that Milan —

a. Be censured by RWA

b. Be suspended from RWA membership for one year

c. Receive a lifetime ban on holding any position of leadership on the RWA National Board, or on an RWA Chapter Board.

Several more violations were raised by Tisdale and Davis largely having to do with social media comments by Milan, but the Board concluded it does not have jurisdiction over social media communications under the existing Code. And they expressed their frustration with that state of affairs by taking this fling at Milan: “However, the committee was also made aware that Ms. Milan served on the Board when this exception was approved, and very likely understood she would be able to act in the manner she did, without being in violation of the code.”

The documents containing the two complaints and supporting screenshots, the RWA Ethics Committee report, and the message communicating the decision to Milan, are available online:

Milan’s response on Twitter starts here.

Sarah Wendell of the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog, wrote an informative post which ends —

… This decision is heinously wrong. Deeply awful, horrifying, and mind-numbingly bad on every level. It’s a slap and a 180-degree contradiction of every other effort made to make RWA more inclusive. The message seems to be, Confront your own bias. Recognize where you are wrong. But don’t call racism “racism” or point out anyone else’s bias, or you’ll be removed.

I am not so pleased about where else my dues are going, or my energy in judging and reading and supporting and even writing all these words right now.  I’m deeply, painfully upset by the decision of the Ethics Committee, and the decision to ban and suspend Courtney Milan. I keep thinking I must be missing something because this decision makes no sense. It hurts.

The comments on Wendell’s post reveal a divide between those who support the Board’s decision, and others who strongly disagree with it.

Ironically, people are reporting that one of the places no one can discuss this decision is in RWA’s own forums.

76 thoughts on “Courtney Milan Suspended by RWA, Banned from Leadership

  1. A second Doc addresses (barely) some of the specifics of the complaint: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1iR18iLfPIP39Lkn0zZ9_gwQBwfiLuNNFAluMCjCb7AA/edit

    “The Board voted to accept the panel’s findings by roll call vote with 10 ayes, 5 nays, and 1 abstention. The Board voted to accept the recommended disciplinary measures by roll call vote with 12 ayes, 2 nays, and 2 abstentions.

    On December 24th, the Board then voted to rescind their vote by roll call vote with 12 ayes and 1 abstention, which nullified any disciplinary measures against Ms Milan.”

  2. So the board was strongly convinced by the report until lots of people said it was BS and then they rapidly became unconvinced by the report. It’s not a good look for the board whichever way you look at it.

  3. Camestros Felapton wrote:

    A second Doc addresses (barely) some of the specifics of the complaint: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1iR18iLfPIP39Lkn0zZ9_gwQBwfiLuNNFAluMCjCb7AA/edit

    Relevant to that, Ms. Milan tweeted a guarded but pithy little comment from her expert law-professor perspective on the matter:

    A brief open letter to the remaining Board Members who are not Damon Suede, pending dinner—

    It will all come out in discovery. Do the right thing.

    Did you know that D&O insurance doesn’t cover deliberate malfeasance? [RM: ‘directors and officers’, a type of umbrella liability insurance policy for Boards of Directors and such]

    I would think about talking to a lawyer.

    RWA’s stakeholders have lost a lot of value. I’m just saying.

    Words of wisdom, there.

    Many decades ago, I was on the Board of an NGO whose volunteer newsletter editor had inadequate supervision and committed clear libel on the front page of a newsletter issue. Pretty much every Board member with a family or a mortgage / real estate resigned, and the shadow of that act loomed over the organisation, well, at least during the one-year statute of limitations, and actually longer because the rump Board couldn’t bring itself to fire the guy who created the problem.

    Ms. Milan’s point concerns personal legal liability if a D&O insurer refuses to cover a Board action. I would add that losing most of the Board to sudden resignations is only the beginning of a group’s woes, if all even-halfway cautious people are also hesitant to fill the empty seats.

    And anyone who doesn’t fear the power of the discovery phase of civill litigation hasn’t learned enough about the law.

  4. So how did this rump “ethics” committee get formed? Does the RWA give somebody{y,ies} some sort of pluck-your-magic-twanger power to bypass existing structure? I can imagine such a rule IFF a committee were called on to discuss one of its own, but not in general. And how many directors are there, that the 9 who are resigning can’t dethrone whoever pulled this stunt? Or is “director” some sort of honorary title?

  5. Chip Hitchcock on December 26, 2019 at 8:15 pm said:

    So how did this rump “ethics” committee get formed? Does the RWA give somebody{y,ies} some sort of pluck-your-magic-twanger power to bypass existing structure?

    There is scope in the rules for the board to extend the pool of people in the ethics committee to hear cases where there could be a conflict of interest with the existing committee.

  6. Camestros Felapton on December 26, 2019 at 9:24 pm said:

    There is scope in the rules for the board to extend the pool of people in the ethics committee to hear cases where there could be a conflict of interest with the existing committee.

    Without telling the existing ethics committee about it? Who decided that the existing ethics committee would have a conflict of interest? And, if so, why have Courtney Milan resign if they were going to bypass it anyway? Reminder that the official ethics committee had several minorities, per the rules of the committee. Did they follow that rule for the other “ethics” committee?

    Seems like they had a pre-determined decision ready to go and ensured that it happened. This just stinks.

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  8. I wasn’t planning on nay extra shopping because I was basically content with my Christmas and already have a big Mount TBR.

    Suddenly, mysteriously, six new romance novels seem to be travelling to my door…

    (only one by Courtney Milan, but I did see commentary by her to the effect that trying books by minority romance authors in general, and especially the ones who were not already fairly big names, was something she thought would be awesome as support.)

  9. P J Evans:

    Oh my. There are posts on this over at MGC, too. (Not going there.)
    via https://twitter.com/courtneymilan/status/1210391334562844672

    I’ll readily admit to having an odd and sometimes dark sense of humour, but suddenly with this crossing of the streams, I find myself reading the resulting mordant commentary on Twitter, including the exchanging of notes between romance fans and SFF figures like Natalie Luhrs, and I cannot help chortling a bit. (Romancelandia knew all about l’Affaire Pup at the time, and considered our tiny little fandom’s squabble kind of cute. And this new barking and whining from leftover canids doesn’t impress them a lot.)

  10. Mallory_S:

    “Who decided that the existing ethics committee would have a conflict of interest?”

    That would be Carol Ritter, the executive president. She is the only one with such powers.

  11. That’s the one who you previously reported is no longer on the web page listing the People of Importance, eh? Was there any explanation to go along with the changes?

    @Rick Moen:

    Romancelandia knew all about l’Affaire Pup at the time, and considered our tiny little fandom’s squabble kind of cute. And this new barking and whining from leftover canids doesn’t impress them a lot.

    Whining where? Are there recognizable canids in the romance world, or are the usual suspects just looking on and cheering?

  12. Chip —

    I was referring to the usual suspects choosing this auspicious occasion to show up and decry the decrying of racism. Several familiar Pup names (e.g., via MGC, and then getting cited by Tisdale apologists on Twitter, thus crossing the streams).

  13. Clip:

    I have seen no reason or explanation for why Ritters name has disappeared. All others that have been removed have made it public in some way.

  14. Found it now. Carol Ritter has merely had her information moved from the Board page to the Staff page. She keeps her position as Executive Director.

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  18. Just picked up “Trade Me” (I had assumed it would have DRM, which was making me hesitate, because I almost never buy books with DRM – but today I actually checked).

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