A bus company in Champaign, Illinois has coughed up a six-figure payment in a legal battle that stemmed from an email advertisement in which they mocked Chinese students.
Suburban Express, which operates between college campuses and the Chicago area, claimed that “You won’t feel like you’re in China when you’re on our buses,” an apparent sneer at the large population of Chinese students at the University of Illinois’s Urbana-Champaign campus.
— The Daily Illini (@TheDailyIllini) December 3, 2017
The ad, which made headlines in December 2017, immediately triggered an investigation into whether Suburban Express had violated the state’s Human Rights Act.
Former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who launched the probe, found that the company had “rampant and equally egregious examples of the owner’s illegal conduct,” prompting her to file a lawsuit in April 2018.
According to the lawsuit, Suburban Express prevented employees from serving students who are not native English speakers.
It also accused company owner Dennis Toeppen of posting a video that mocked Asian students and even calling one customer “a pushy little Chinese international student with a fragile ego” who “should go back to your country and stay there.”
An agreement to end the lawsuit was finally settled on April 9, with Suburban Express opting to pay a six-digit amount in customer refunds, the Associated Press reported.
Additionally, the company must implement new anti-discrimination policies and training for employees, as well as undergoing periodic evaluations on its contracts, advertisements and customer complaints.
Following the compromise, Suburban Express has remained defiant, maintaining its innocence and stating that it “felt it was being extorted by the state.”
“Madigan’s lawsuit contained numerous false, unproven, unproveable (sic) and legally inconsequential allegations,” the company said in a statement. “Suburban Express felt that it was being extorted by the state, but chose a $100k payment to state rather than spending $250k to $500k defeating the lawsuit.”
Suburban Express added that it plans to take legal action against Kwame Raoul, current attorney general, who declared that the settlement “brings an end to Mr. Toeppen’s reprehensible business practices and ensures that students receive fair and equal access to Suburban Express’ services.”
“Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s press release on the matter is false and defamatory in the extreme, in that it claims his office proved the various false and unproven allegations,” the company said.
Suburban Express must establish a method for claiming refunds of up to $20 by the end of the month, the Chicago Tribune noted.
Customers who have not received refunds for tickets purchased between April 23, 2014 and April 9, 2018 may be eligible to claim until October 9.