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Illinois AG files harassment lawsuit against bus company

April 23, 2018
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan outlines a federal lawsuit her office filed against Champaign, Ill.-based Suburban Express Inc., and owner Dennis Toeppen accusing it of discriminating and harassing customers and their families during a news conference in Chicago, Monday, April 23, 2018. The transportation company provides bus service to college students in Illinois, Iowa and Indiana to the Chicago area. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan outlines a federal lawsuit her office filed against Champaign, Ill.-based Suburban Express Inc., and owner Dennis Toeppen accusing it of discriminating and harassing customers and their families during a news conference in Chicago, Monday, April 23, 2018. The transportation company provides bus service to college students in Illinois, Iowa and Indiana to the Chicago area. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Monday filed a federal lawsuit seeking to shut down a Champaign-area bus company for allegedly discriminating against and harassing its customers and their families.

The lawsuit filed against Suburban Express Inc. and owner Dennis Toeppen comes after a December mass-marketing email that told riders they “won’t feel like you’re in China when you’re on our buses.”

The transportation company provides college students in Illinois, Iowa and Indiana with bus service to the Chicago area.

“Suburban Express and Dennis Toeppen have engaged in illegal discrimination and harassment against college students and their families,” Madigan said. “I am asking the court to take immediate action to prevent further harm to people who have been targeted by Suburban Express and its owner, and my lawsuit seeks to shut this company down for good.”

Madigan said Toeppen bans and publicly shames or embarrasses customers. She said he has websites attacking individual customers along with publishing credit card and bank account numbers.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, seeks a restraining order to bar the company from publishing customers’ financial information, halt harassment and prevent the company from forcing riders to accept unfair contract terms.

In a statement posted on its Facebook page, the company noted it is reviewing the lawsuit and contends it “contains allegations that are completely false.” It went on to say the company has never posted customer credit card numbers online.

“We take this unfounded assault on our reputation seriously and we intend to defend this lawsuit vigorously,” the post said.

In its statement, the company asserted the complaint by Madigan shows the lack of a sense of humor, pointing to “tongue in cheek” posts like the picture of bowing passengers. It claims the picture ”’cannot reasonably be inferred to mean that we have something against certain customers.”

Madigan noted Toeppen called a customer “a pushy little Chinese international student with a fragile ego” who “should go back to your country and stay there.”

“This is explicit, race-based discrimination that in addition to being unacceptable is also illegal,” Madigan said.

Tuyet Le of Asian Americans Advancing Justice said she is encouraged by the lawsuit and hopes it ends the company’s policies and practices. She added that a company that advertises its racism “has no place in serving the people of Illinois.”

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