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.