Bus company ordered to remove customer information from website

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The bus company being sued by the state for discrimination against Asian students at the University of Illinois has been ordered to remove sensitive customer information the company posted online in response to negative reviews from customers.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan this week filed a federal lawsuit against Suburban Express owner Dennis Toeppen after his company sent a promotional email to students that was seen as offensive to Asian students.

“You won’t feel like you’re in China when you’re on our buses,” the email reads in part.

Now, the state has gotten a judge’s approval to order the company to halt another one of Toeppen’s controversial tactics: posting the personal information of customers who post negative reviews of the company online and, in some cases, banning those customers from future use of the bus service.

Toeppen’s company allegedly set up a website where it posted the personal information, including emails, phone numbers and addresses of what it called “bad customers.” The company, which offers shuttles services from Champaign to the Chicago area, has also banned hundreds of customers for “arbitrary, unfair and unscrupulous reasons,” including for negative reviews, according to the lawsuit.

The website appears to have been taken down.

The state’s retraining order requires the company to remove the sensitive information and cease posting such information to the web. It also requires the company to stop banning customers for unflattering reviews and requires it to stop using contract terms which allows the company to ban customers for “online disparagement,” according to court documents.

Neither Toeppen nor his lawyers were in court Friday.

In a Facebook post uploaded shortly after the lawsuit was filed, Suburban Express said the suit is an “unfounded assault on our reputation.””It seems to largely criticize instances where we have fought back against false claims made on review sites and by online detractors,” the statement reads. “Defending ourselves against the online harassment does not constitute harassment of the harasser.”

U.S. District Judge Andrea Wood signed off on the restraining order, but said she was concerned about restricting Toeppen’s First Amendment rights to post “harsh” rebuttals to customer reviews.

A state law stipulates that business owners cannot penalize customers for protected statements like online reviews, attorneys for the state said in court Friday.

Toeppen is not barred from personally responding to negative comments on platforms like Yelp and Reddit, which lawyers for the state said has been his practice in the past.

On its Facebook page on Friday, Suburban Express said it entered into an “Agreed Order” with Madigan. “That means that we’ve negotiated terms with the AG that we’ll adhere to for 28 days. During that time, we’ll advance negotiations with the AG with the hopes of reaching a resolution,” the statement said.

The next hearing in the case is set for May 23.

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