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.

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

  1. Click to follow (I’ve seen several threads elsewhere, but this seems like the most convenient place for me to subscribe to follow further developments and discussion).

  2. I already had her Twitter page bookmarked, and the whole day’s thread is interesting reading. (She’s one of the very few romance writers I read.)

  3. I tried to scan it to see what she had done wrong, but had no idea of how to decrypt it.

  4. I wasn’t very familiar with Courtney Milan so I hit up her Wikipedia page.

    Double degree in mathematics and chemistry. Then a Masters degree in Physical Chemistry from Berkeley with an emphasis in fluid simulation.
    Then!
    Got her law degree summa cum laude. Clerked for the Supreme Court. Becomes a law professor at Seattle University School of Law. Retires from that because her publishing sideline got too lucrative.

    Who picks a fight with this person? What the hell is wrong with them?

  5. And on top of her academic and career accomplishments, every novel I’ve read of hers is good for at least one solid cry and several pants-tingling moments. She knows her stuff.

  6. The plot thickens:
    At 7:31 PM Dec 24, the RWA tweeted:

    At a meeting today that identified a gap between policy and process, RWA’s Board of Directors rescinded its vote accepting the findings of the Ethics Committee report and the consequent penalties against Courtney Milan pending a legal opinion.

  7. @Lis Riba
    That says they’re thoroughly embarrassed by the reaction to their previous decision.

  8. Ryan H. wrote:

    Who picks a fight with this person? What the hell is wrong with them?

    FWIW, Courtney has been a hero of mine for a long time, particularly in regard to the Ellora’s Cave scandal, about which she wrote in a fashion that both enlightened and entertained more than anyone else (making really good use of her lawyerly analytic skills), and then later for her comments when the story about Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski broke. (She’d had the misfortune of being one of his clerks.)

    FYI, RWA has already started to backtrack (at least to the degree of saying ‘Hold please, while we belatedly talk to legal counsel, as we fear that pain in our pedal extremities might be from the bullet we fired in a vaguely downwards direction’).

  9. @Jencendiary, she’s one of only two romance authors who made me feel like they understood the tech industry at all. As someone who has always worked primarily with men (and is more tomboy than average), it’s really hard for women who haven’t been in tech to wrap their heads around what it’s like to work in it.

  10. @Deirdre Saoirse Moen: Can you recommend a particular novel of hers with a tech industry background? Thanks.

  11. On Twitter, Courtney Milan wrote:

    @courtneymilan
    btw this isn’t an apology
    Courtney!!! Milan

    @courtneymilan
    It’s not even a “we are finishing the matter”
    Courtney!!! Milan

    @courtneymilan
    It’s “we need to talk to legal counsel sorry”

  12. Wow, this is like the RWA putting up a shocking-pink banner which extends the full length of a convention center and says “YES, WE’RE APPALLINGLY RACIST, AND WE HAVE NO INTENTION OF CHANGING THAT, OR OF FEELING THE LEAST BIT OF REMORSE ABOUT IT”. 🙄

    It still never ceases to amaze me how many racists have crawled out of their holes since Trump was elected, and now have the courage to be proudly, openly racist.

  13. P J Evans: The Cyclone series is in the tech field.

    I’m not much for reading romance novels, but the first one, Trade Me, sounds interesting, so I’ve picked it up as a way of supporting her a bit. Thanks for the recommendation.

  14. @Andrew et al, Yeah, I’d recommend Trade Me. It’s not at all my personal experience in tech. Recently, driving by college campuses and seeing all the people living in cars/trucks/RVs have made me realize that the main character living in an unconverted garage is probably far more common than I realized.

  15. There’s kind of a predictable arc to these sort of stories, and Racist Whites of America have passed the “Oh shoot, bad publicity, let’s dig deeper” section, and have reached the “Wow. LOTS of bad publicity, let’s stall until we can come up with a new response” portion of the event. Coming up, it’s starts to sink in how thoroughly they’ve started a land war in SE Asia.

  16. Courtney Milan wrote one of my favorite romance novels, The Countess Conspiracy, which involves a woman in Regency England who’s laundering her research on evolution through a man whose gender and title protects him.

    Beyond her books, she’s worked tirelessly to help the RWA deal with racism, and as the links above show she’s donated her time and acumen to untangle legal matters in the publishing world. I hate that this has happened to her.

  17. @Stephen Granade

    Now that this has happened to her, I suspect she is about to happen to a lot of other people. May they get what they deserve.

  18. @Cora
    That really is enlightening, and I see that Courtney is on the side of good. (People who tell me that both sides are equally bad, are people I won’t trust.)

  19. Hampus Eckerman on December 25, 2019 at 10:34 am said:

    Holy Moly, they didn’t even inform the original ethics committee that they had created a separate one just to handle the Milan-case.

    Ouch! I’d read that it was a separate committee but I hadn’t realised they hadn’t told the existing committee. Nor was it clear in the initial communication that it was a separate group — so those poor souls on the ACTUAL ethics committee will have been seeing huge piles of condemnation of the RWA Ethics Committee without forewarning or context.

    If this had been an employer and a disciplinary process of an employee, then, in Australia at least, they’d be facing a hefty pay-out. Heck, even if somebody thought Milan had breached the code of conduct, the process the RWA has ended up following is such a mess that there’s no capacity for it to be just.

  20. Oh it gets worse. Another tweet from Milan https://twitter.com/courtneymilan/status/1209840257991987202
    She cites the letter where she is told of the breaches she is being judged against. Only, the four things listed are not the same as allegations listed in the ethics committee report. Two are basically the same and two are different.

    There’s a point where neither incompetence nor malice are sufficient explanations by themselves and it takes a special combination of both.

  21. According to my wife Deirdre, who’s been following this story closely, RWA’s entire original Ethics Committee mass-resigned.

    And, frankly, wouldn’t you, if the organisation for whose benefit you were a volunteer Ethics Committee member implicitly called your abilities and/or good faith participation into question by going behind your back and convening a bespoke one-time ethics committee for a new case, for unexplained reasons?

  22. Directors-at-Large Adrienne Mishel, Seressia Glass, Tracey Livesay, Pintip Dunn, Priscilla Oliveras, Farrah Rochon, Erica Ridley and Denny S Bryce have resigned.

  23. I doubt the organisation is imploding. I’m fairly sure the organisation is quite a bit larger than the SFWA or the HWA, and if it has managed to work as long as it has it probably has a lot of institutional inertia and goodwill to fall back on. Think not only of awards stuff, but also conferences, or the equivalent of SFWA’s “Writer beware” and grievances committee.

    Replacing or rebuilding those things is not done easily or quickly.

  24. It appears romance writers will be starting 2020 by creating a new organization for themselves, likely with some serious clarification of both rules and procedures.

    It looks like an impressive number of experienced people will be available for it.

  25. @Karl-Johan Norén
    Many of the directors have resigned, the regular ethics committee has resigned, a lot of members are Not Happy (and are reporting on problems they’ve had with RWA staff).
    You have to read an assortment of twitter threads to see most of it.

  26. Lis Carey on December 26, 2019 at 12:20 pm said:

    It appears romance writers will be starting 2020 by creating a new organization for themselves, likely with some serious clarification of both rules and procedures.

    Even with this momentum, that will be an uphill struggle but it may be their best option. Looking back at the SFWA turmoil, even with VD essentially announcing that he was a villainous villain intent on villainy and practically twirling his moustache and cackling madly, it looked like a very difficult and contentious process to get rid of him [observing from a distance and from hindsight]. It will be a painful process for the RWA to find a way through this and I’d assume it would be tougher for bigger field than SFF to work through the issues.

  27. @PJ Evans:

    I’m aware of that. The RWA has probably been dealt a body blow here, and RWA seems to be a far larger organisation than the SFWA, and with more permanent institutions. Even replacing it with something like the SFWA will take a lot of time, a lot of effort, and will face a long uphill battle against the channels that the RWA already has established.

    Also, note that it was rather clear that there was a lot of members (either in numbers or in influence) who were not happy with the work that Milan and other were making in combating racism or sexism within the romance field. I expect things will continue on for a long time.

  28. Webpage of board members has been updated at rwa.org, Carolyn Jewel has been removed as the President together with Executive Director Carol Ritter. The last batch of Directors-at-Large that resigned are still listed.

  29. This is disgraceful and RWA is showing themselves to be a deeply racist organization. Their ethics complaints specifically state that they don’t apply to non-RWA operated social channels e.g. Twitter. In other words, they specifically broke their own rules to ban someone, for life, who had just received a service award for bringing in diverse members. Apparently they don’t mod racist comments (directed at minorities) on their own forums. But all of this debacle was ugly, from sending Courtney Milan something two days before Christmas giving her 10 days to respond. To sending out the note right after entries for RWA had ended (writers pay to submit). To finding in favor of Courtney on 3 of the 4 complaints and then banning her for life.

    I do think that they are imploding because I think they will lose a lot of conference attendees etc going forward. After all, which attendee or publishing house wants to be associated with a racist organization? Several of their chapters have written and asked for the leadership to resign. With that said, they have a ton of money in hand and a lot of writers who are anti-diversity so the struggle may continue on for a long time.

  30. Here’s what I think will happen: The RWA has a solid base of members who do not care or object to the way it’s currently been operating. These members will rise up to fill in the holes left by resignations, and the organization will continue as it has been operating — and it will continue to alienate new applicants.

    Members who are unhappy with RWA as it currently exists will come together to form the ARW (or something similar) which will have vastly-improved policies, procedures, and attitudes than the existing RWA.

    It will take a long time to build this new org up into something which has the heft of the existing RWA, but I suspect that the RWA will continue to hemorrage members to the new organization, and the RWA will eventually become even more of an insiders’ little club of friends and friends-of-friends who are allowed to join and win awards, and eventually its credibility will have dropped to the point where it is no longer a powerhouse.

    The alternative is a housecleaning which removes the current problematic leadership in the RWA, and I don’t see those people allowing that to happen.

  31. JJ on December 26, 2019 at 4:50 pm said:

    Here’s what I think will happen: The RWA has a solid base of members who do not care or object to the way it’s currently been operating. These members will rise up to fill in the holes left by resignations, and the organization will continue as it has been operating — and it will continue to alienate new applicants.

    Yes, and from what I’ve been seeing a new organisation could tap into a broader base of writers.

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