Suburban Express Sued By Illinois Attorney General For Behaving Like Suburban Express

from the home-to-roost dept

We’ve talked quite a bit about Surban Express in these pages. The bus company chiefly works the Illinois university circuit, bussing students and others between the schools and transportation hubs like O’Hare Airport. In addition, the company also regularly sues any customers critical of its services, occasionally runs away from those suits, then refiles them, all while owner Dennis Toeppen harasses and publicly calls out these customers on the company website and its social media accounts. Also, the company has a deep history of treating non-white customers differently and poorly than others, culminating in a recent advertisement it sent out promising riders that they won’t feel like they’re in China when on its buses (the University of IL has a sizable Asian student population). After that advertisement, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced an investigation into the company’s practices, prompting Suburban Express to apologize several times for the ad.

Well, if Toeppen had hoped those apologies would keep the AG at bay, it didn’t work. Madigan has now sued the company in Chicago for discriminatory behavior and the mistreatment of its customers.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, seeks a restraining order against the company to stop it from publishing customers’ financial information, halt harassment and prevent the company from forcing riders to accept unfair contract terms. If the company does not change its practices, Madigan said, the attorney general wants the company out of business.

The company’s actions, Madigan said, constitute “flagrant and numerous violations” of Illinois’ civil rights and consumer protection laws.

“My lawsuit alleges that Suburban Express has long been engaged in illegal discrimination and harassment of college students in Illinois, particularly University of Illinois students and their families,” Madigan said at a morning news conference at the Thompson Center to announce the lawsuit.

Among the allegations is that Suburban Express harasses its critics, publishes some of their financial information in an attempt to shame them, discriminates against customers based on their race, and generally tries to make the lives of anyone that doesn’t love the services they get a living hell. All of this followed a months-long investigation into the actions of the company and Toeppen himself.

In response, Suburban Express posted to its Facebook page that it merely defends itself against lying critics, before suggesting how awesome it is.

“Defending ourselves against online harrassment (sic) does not constitute harrassment (sic) of the harrasser. (sic) The complaint seems to demonstrate a lack of any sense of humor on the part of Attorney General Madigan. Tongue in cheek posts like the picture of bowing passengers cannot reasonably be inferred to mean that we have something against certain customers.”

“The world is a better place as a result of Suburban Express. … We take this unfounded assault on our reputation seriously and we intend to defend this lawsuit vigorously,” the post concluded. “We’d love to hear from attorneys interested in defending us against this lawsuit.”

What attorneys will rush to the side of a company that has so clearly demonstrated exactly who and what it is will be interesting to watch. Part of Suburban Express’ problem is that it engaged in so much of this harassment online, where the slate can never be truly scrubbed, and with which the AG will be able to present the court with the company’s own words and actions.

Given the long history of public behavior by the company, it’s hard to imagine how any of this goes well for it.

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Companies: suburban express

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Comments on “Suburban Express Sued By Illinois Attorney General For Behaving Like Suburban Express”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Time will tell

I suspect that there is a bystander willing to snap up this company and run it legitimately, but are waiting for its current owner to fsck up sufficiently to run it into bankruptcy (something that may or may not be likely, but does seem probable) when they will be able to pick it up for a song. And maybe, if negotiated correctly, without any current debt.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: About time

I actually just looked this up for my own interest.

The word “sic” apparently means literally “thus”; I imagine it’s probably the same word as in “sic transit gloria mundi”, “thus passes the glory of the world”. In the context, it’s a perfectly appropriate way of saying “yes, this is the way it was in the original”.

byte^me (profile) says:

More to come

As someone who lives in Champaign and works for the University of Illinois, I have been following events with this company for a while.

Things continue to get interesting. Suburban Express has agreed to a temporary restraining order.

Something tells me I’m going to be enjoying lots of popcorn in the near future as I watch how this all plays out.

Canuck says:

Too little, too late?

As others have noted, it took far too long for the government to get off its ass and do something. Many victims will see no benefit from this suit. Let’s hope that the penalty actually hurts this guy.

As happens far too often, when the government (finally) does something right, it’s for the wrong reasons.

That One Guy (profile) says:

When your own advertisements can be used against you

Tongue in cheek posts like the picture of bowing passengers cannot reasonably be inferred to mean that we have something against certain customers."

Oh no, of course not. Advertisements with lines like ‘Passengers like you. You won’t feel like you’re in China when you’re on our buses‘ followed by a laughably bad ‘apology’ on the other hand…

tp (profile) says:

Ads are serious business

Proper companies are thinking their customer base before sending offending adverticements to the public’s consumption. All offending material needs to be filtered out before proceeding with the adverticements. Otherwise there’s no point in sending the ads.

Also, ads are important also because the company takes responsibility if something bad happens because of the published material. It’s similar to the logo of the company, i.e. it represents the values and principles attached to the company in question.

If their adverticements directly attack non-white population, then the company values are not in good shape and the company has no reason to exist in the world. It’s perfectly ok to sue companies like this, if their message to the world is this well thought out.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Ads are serious business

Ads are serious. I’ve heard time and again “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” with the reasoning that when you’re shopping for something, you’ll remember the name, but not why, and purchase the product/service anyway. That’s completely bogus. While I often don’t remember why I remember the name, I COMPLETELY remember how I FELT about it. “I don’t remember why I know this brand, but I know I hated them with a passion of a thousand suns and will NEVER buy/use their product/service!”

Anonymous Coward says:

They're asshats, so what?

So, sure, the company is totally in the wrong. Certainly if they publish any personal information about their customers they should be punished.

On the other hand, as most of this seems to be about how their objectionable behavior towards customers, the established American way to resolve this is to create a competitor that does better. Customers will flock to the new business because it operates in a more amenable manner, and the “bad” one will eventually go out of business.

This is how the “democracy” part of our system is supposed to work. We can vote with our dollars to directly influence how businesses operate. The fact that it took the government 5 years to even take action is actually an example of why we shouldn’t be relying strictly on this kind of resolution to our problems.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: They're asshats, so what?

“I don’t have the money for anything better than the bus, so I’ll run out and CREATE A COMPETING COMPANY.”

Yeah, I don’t think so. Most people who don’t like a service don’t have the money to make a competing service, and they can’t boycott the service as it’s the only service available for something they NEED, which means that complaining to the government (or maybe the news) is the only recourse available.

Anonymous Coward says:

What attorneys will rush to the side of a company that has so clearly demonstrated exactly who and what it is will be interesting to watch.

I’d suggest Marc Randazza, but he seems to limit his practice to actual Nazis, and I don’t think Suburban Express’s casual racism is anywhere near hateful enough to qualify.

Toom1275 (profile) says:

"Defending ourselves against online harrassment (sic) does not constitute harrassment (sic) of the harrasser.

If you didn’t suffer from the delusions you do (such as of persecution), Suburban Express, then perhaps you’d realize that your many victims defending themselves from your harassment is, by your own logic not harassment of you, the harasser. You threw the first punches, so you have no right to complain about getting hit back.

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