CHAMPAIGN — Suburban Express may have shut down, but the Illinois Attorney General says it still is required to live up to a court-ordered agreement reached last month.
The local bus company abruptly stopped operating earlier this month, and owner Dennis Toeppen said it would wind down "hopefully no later than July 31."
Toeppen said doing so renders "most of the consent decree moot."
But the attorney general's office disagreed, saying in a motion filed Monday: "Contrary to Toeppen's assertion, the consent decree is far from moot."
The two sides reached a consent decree last month after then-Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit last year alleging Suburban Express discriminated against and harassed its customers.
According to the decree, Suburban Express would have to pay a $100,000 fine and be subject to three years of scrutiny by the attorney general's office.
Shortly after the agreement was reached, the office of new Attorney General Kwame Raoul accused Toeppen of violating the decree and sought $20,000 more in fines.
Despite closing the business, Raoul's office said Suburban Express still exists as a corporate entity and that Toeppen himself has to meet certain obligations during the three-year agreement.
— Hosting a web form for refund payment requests, along with a link to the form from Suburban Express' home page.
— Taking reasonable security measures to protect customers' personal information.
— Reporting any customer complaints to the state every 180 days.
— Taking annual training about laws against discrimination.
"Given these ongoing requirements, Toeppen's latest purported actions hardly 'obviate the need' for the Court's oversight," Assistant Attorney General Jeff VanDam wrote.
After Toeppen shut down Suburban Express, he took down the company's website and only left up the refund request page.
Without a link to this page from the main website, VanDam said "submissions of completed webforms by customers have slowed considerably in recent days."
The attorney general's office said it asked Toeppen to repost Suburban Express' home page, but "Toeppen refused, informing the State that he was willing only to reinstate the entirety of suburbanexpress.com, including its 'Page of Shame' and attack pages against individual customers. This immediate and intentional breach, replete with Defendants' bad faith, requires action by the Court."
On Tuesday, the entire Suburban Express website had been re-uploaded.
The attorney general's office is also asking the judge in this case to require Toeppen to provide the state with reliable email and mailing addresses so they can contact Toeppen.
That request is necessary, they argue, because of a video Toeppen recently uploaded to YouTube. On it, he says he "has commissioned the construction of a 'Ted Kaczynski cabin' in which he will live as part of his 'escape to (an) unknown wilderness location.'"
As part of the consent decree reached last month, Toeppen agreed to pay a $100,000 fine to the state.
When he shut down Suburban Express, he said that payment would be made around May 15. An attorney general spokesperson on Tuesday confirmed Toeppen had made the payment.
The lawsuit against Toeppen stemmed from an email advertisement he sent in December 2017 that said Suburban Express' benefits included "Passengers like you. You won't feel like you're in China when you're on our buses."
That led to a swift backlash, apologies and a subpoena to determine whether Suburban Express had violated the Illinois Human Rights Act.
Madigan filed a 39-page lawsuit in April 2018, attaching 182 pages of exhibits filled with screenshots of Yelp comments on negative reviews, Suburban Express' notorious "Page of Shame," emails, copies of the email advertisements, a copy of the contract customers must agree to and an internal list of banned customers.
Suburban Express allegedly denied credit cards from ZIP codes with high Jewish populations, instructed employees to avoid handing out coupons to certain students who appeared to not speak English well and recorded a YouTube video in a UI dorm while complaining about the lack of English speakers and mocking Asian accents by saying "No Engrish."
When the lawsuit was filed, Madigan said she wanted to force Suburban Express and Toeppen to either comply with the law or be shut down.
Last month, Suburban Express reached the consent decree with the attorney general's office, which required it to post an anti-discrimination notice on its website, keep copies of any complaints it receives and not retaliate against anyone seeking a refund.
A week after this agreement was reached, the attorney general's office accused Toeppen of violating it, alleging he re-uploaded web pages attacking customers and failed to post the anti-discrimination notice everywhere he was supposed to.
Raoul initially sought an additional $10,000 fine against Suburban Express. After Toeppen made some changes, Raoul sought another $10,000 fine because Toeppen told a reporter at Chicago's WTTW-TV that the lawsuit "had a great deal of MSG sprinkled on it," referring to an ingredient commonly used in Asian food.
Toeppen said the remark wasn't meant to be racist, and the judge in this case has yet to rule on the request for additional fines.