CHAMPAIGN — As far as Illinois' attorney general is concerned, Suburban Express isn't out of the woods yet in getting in compliance with a court-ordered consent degree.
And Kwame Raoul is asking a judge to double his office's original proposed penalty for the bus company's alleged violations of the terms of their agreement — from $10,000 to $20,000.
That's in addition to the $100,000 fine ordered earlier this month in the consent decree, which also called for the company and owner Dennis Toeppen to refrain from retaliating and discriminating against customers.
Within a week, Raoul's office said, Suburban Express was back to posting defamatory statements about customers on its website, and it also failed to post a nondiscrimination statement everywhere it was required to.
After a hearing Tuesday in Chicago, Suburban Express modified its site. But in a new court filing Thursday, Raoul said on April 18, Toeppen wrote in an email to a reporter at Chicago's WTTW-TV: "The AG's lawsuit had a great deal of MSG sprinkled on it." Raoul noted that MSG is a seasoning used in Asian food and "a source of racist commentary."
Toeppen claimed the remark was an innocent reference, according to Raoul, who said he thinks it was instead used as a dog whistle.
Both sides are due back in court May 1.
The original lawsuit against Suburban Express, filed by then-Attorney General Lisa Madigan, stemmed from an email advertisement the company sent in December 2017 saying its 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.