ILLINOIS (WCIA) — Attorney General Kwane Raoul has reached a settlement with the owner of Suburban Express.
The lawsuit was filed in 2017. It states the company’s owner, Dennies Toeppen, discriminated against customers at the University of Illinois. It came after an email from the company said “You won’t feel like you’re in China when you’re on our buses.” The lawsuit also stated the company encouraged employees to avoid students who didn’t appear to speak English when they were handing out coupons.
In the settlement, Toeppen is required to pay $100,000 and allows eligible customers to get refunds. Students who want a refund will be able to file an online claim starting April 30. He is also prohibited from discriminating against customers based on their race, national origin or religion.
Chicago – Attorney General Kwame Raoul today announced a consent decree with a transportation company that requires it to end its practice of discriminating and harassing customers and their families. The consent decree resolves a lawsuit the Attorney General’s office filed in 2018 against Suburban Express, Inc. and owner Dennis Toeppen.
The consent decree was entered today by Judge Andrea Wood in the Northern District of Illinois to resolve allegations that Toeppen and Suburban Express discriminated against customers on the basis of race, national origin and religion; harassed customers with public shame and ridicule; and intentionally compromised customers’ personal information. Suburban Express is a company that provides bus services to students at colleges and universities in Illinois, Iowa and Indiana to the suburban Chicago area and Chicago airports.
The Attorney General’s office filed a lawsuit against Suburban Express and Dennis Toeppen alleging the defendants engaged in discrimination against customers, including a December 2017 mass-marketing email to customers that touted bus rides with, “Passengers like you. You won’t feel like you’re in China when you’re on our buses.” The lawsuit also alleged Suburban Express encouraged its employees to avoid certain students who appear not to speak English when distributing coupons for bus services. According to the lawsuit, Toeppen even posted an online video mocking Asian students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“For too long, students traveling from university campuses to their homes have done so under the fear of being subjected to discrimination and harassment by Suburban Express and its owner,” Raoul said. “This consent decree brings an end to Mr. Toeppen’s reprehensible business practices and ensures that students receive fair and equal access to Suburban Express’s services.”
The consent decree requires Suburban Express to pay $100,000 and enables eligible customers to seek refunds. The Attorney General is encouraging consumers to apply for payments between April 30 and Oct. 9, 2019 by reviewing eligibility requirements and filing an online claim. Consumers will be able to submit a claim on the Suburban Express website beginning April 30.
The Attorney General’s lawsuit alleged Toeppen responded to negative online reviews by ridiculing and insulting customers on his website, sometimes publicly encouraging potential employers to avoid hiring them or universities not to enroll certain students. Toeppen also published web pages attacking individual customers and published full credit card numbers and bank account numbers online.
Raoul’s consent decree prohibits Suburban Express from engaging in discriminatory conduct that is based on race, national origin or religion. Suburban Express is also prohibited from denying service to customers based solely on discriminatory reasons or customers’ online commentary, and the company cannot attempt to use contractual terms to discourage negative online feedback. Additionally, Suburban Express is prohibited from releasing customers’ personal information and must take steps to ensure all customers’ records are protected from unauthorized access.
The Attorney General’s office will monitor compliance with the terms of the consent decree for the next three years. During that time, attorneys from Raoul’s office may inspect Suburban Express’ reported business records as well as loading and unloading processes. Additionally, Toeppen and his employees must attend annual trainings on anti-discrimination laws.
The case was handled by the Attorney General’s Special Litigation Bureau and Civil Rights Bureau. The Civil Rights Bureau enforces state and federal civil rights laws to prohibit discrimination in Illinois and advocates for legislation to strengthen those laws. Raoul encourages people who need to file a complaint to do so online or by calling the Civil Rights Hotline at 1-877-581-3692.
Bureau Chief Jeanne Witherspoon and Senior Attorneys General Thomas Verticchio, and Matthew Chimienti handled the lawsuit for Raoul’s Special Litigation Bureau. Assistant Attorneys General Jeff VanDam and Alison Hill handled the lawsuit for Raoul’s Civil Rights Bureau.