The Public Protection Division is headed by an Executive Deputy Attorney General who is the Director and has overall responsibility for ensuring that the functions of the Division are properly administered. The Director of the Public Protection Division reports to the Attorney General and the First Deputy Attorney General and is responsible for keeping members of the Executive Office advised of all non-routine or sensitive matters.
The Public Protection Division has regional offices located throughout the Commonwealth. Attorneys in this Division appear before the Pennsylvania Courts of Common Pleas; Pennsylvania Commonwealth, Superior and Supreme Courts; federal courts; and state and federal administrative agencies.
The Public Protection Division has nine sections:
- Bureau of Consumer Protection
- Charitable Trusts & Organizations
- Civil Rights Enforcement
- Special Litigation
- Fair Labor
- Health Care
- Tobacco Enforcement
- Office of Consumer Advocate
The Antitrust Section helps protect the free enterprise system by detecting anti-competitive practices and taking legal action to stop them. Acting as a watchdog to maintain a free and open marketplace, the section brings legal actions to recover overcharges paid by consumers and state agencies as the result of violations of state and federal antitrust laws. The section also reviews and challenges mergers which may result in consumers or state agencies paying higher prices or which will harm Pennsylvania’s economy.
This section works with the Legislature, government agencies and, where appropriate, businesses, to eliminate laws and regulations that put anti-competitive restraints on the free enterprise system. The Antitrust Section also has an educational function, making attorneys available for lectures and public programs about antitrust issues throughout the state.
The Bureau of Consumer Protection mediates consumer complaints. It investigates and takes legal action against companies and individuals which engage in unfair business practices in cases where a lawsuit by the Attorney General serves the public interest and seeks injunctive relief as well as restitution and civil penalties. The Commonwealth Attorneys Act requires that the Attorney General maintain a Bureau of Consumer Protection and appoint its director. The Bureau also oversees the registrations of Home Improvement Contractors, Health Clubs, Telemarketers, and others.
The Charitable Trusts and Organizations Section protects the public’s interest in all property committed to charitable purposes. Among its responsibilities, the Section oversees nonprofit corporations generally, including nonprofit mergers, conversions and acquisitions, and may seek to revoke an organization’s franchise and articles whenever it misuses, abuses or fails to use its powers and privileges correctly.
The Civil Rights Enforcement Section protects and advances the rights of Pennsylvanians through the enforcement of state and federal civil rights laws. We review every complaint of a civil rights violation to determine the proper response – whether to attempt to correct the situation or to make a referral to another agency in a better position to help. The Section retains, investigates, and pursues matters with a potential for high impact on people’s rights, such as:
- Actions in the name of the Attorney General before the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to challenge discrimination in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act – in employment, housing, and public accommodations (including education institutions) on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, disability, holding a G.E.D., or familial status – when the case presents a pattern or practice of discrimination or presents an important issue of statewide significance;
- Civil rights actions under state and federal law as permitted by the Attorney General’s standing as parens patriae (i.e., when warranted to broadly protect the welfare of the Commonwealth’s residents); and
- Civil injunctions or other equitable relief, in consultation with the local district attorney, under the Civil Redress Statute (42 P.S. § 8309) to protect persons or property against crimes motivated by hatred toward the race, color, religion, or national origin of another individual or group (18 P. S. § 2710 (ethnic intimidation) or 18 P. S. § 3307 (institutional vandalism)).
The Civil Rights Enforcement Section also conducts training and outreach; and works with other governmental agencies to share information about bias-related incidents and collaborate on strategies to respond.
The Fair Labor Section of the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General was established in 2017, with the mission to protect workers’ rights and promote a level playing field for law-abiding businesses. The Fair Labor Section’s work spans the civil, criminal, and regulatory worlds, from defending public sector unions and pushing back against restrictive covenants that stifle worker mobility, to prosecuting theft of workers’ wages and benefits by employers, to commenting on proposed federal regulations relating to labor matters.
The Health Care Section safeguards the rights of all Pennsylvanians to receive fair, equal, and adequate healthcare. We advocate on behalf of individuals who are experiencing difficulty in dealing with healthcare organizations, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, pharmacies, insurers, and medical equipment manufacturers. We resolve individual complaints through mediation; investigate questionable business practices; and take legal action on behalf of the Commonwealth and in the public interest against entities that engage in unfair or deceptive practices. The Health Care Section also works to protect patient privacy and take action against entities responsible for breaches of protected health information.
The Tobacco Enforcement Section has two important missions which flow from the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) of November 1998 settling Pennsylvania’s lawsuit against the tobacco industry. The first mission is to safeguard the Commonwealth’s annual receipt of settlement moneys. The second mission is to police the MSA’s public health provisions. The MSA, which was approved by Pennsylvania and 45 other states, sets forth restrictions on the advertising and marketing of tobacco products, such as the placement of tobacco products in youth-oriented advertisements or events, and provides for payments to the states as reimbursement for health-related expenditures. Those payments fund essential services specified in the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Act of 2001 (35 P.S. §5671, et. seq.).
To maximize those payments, the General Assembly has passed several statutes that this Section enforces. The Tobacco Settlement Agreement Act requires tobacco product manufacturers that do not join the MSA to place money into an escrow account based on their cigarette sales within the state. The Tobacco Product Manufacturer Directory Act (35 P.S. §5702.101, et. seq.) provides that cigarette brands can only be sold within the Commonwealth if they appear on a directory of approved brands. The Tobacco Enforcement Section is charged with implementing those acts, including maintaining the Directory and processing applications and certifications from tobacco companies.
The Tobacco Enforcement Section also collaborates with local law enforcement, other state agencies, and other state Attorneys General to make tobacco laws work more effectively. The ultimate objective of the Section is to reduce the use of tobacco, with particular emphasis on children and teens, thereby promoting the health of Pennsylvania citizens.
The Office of Consumer Advocate was established to represent the interests of consumers before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, and comparable federal agencies and focuses primarily on the interests of residential consumers in those proceedings. Until the advent of the Office of Consumer Advocate in 1976, residential consumers often went unrepresented in utility rate and service cases because the technical knowledge and financial resources needed for utility regulatory issues could not be afforded by individual consumers. The Consumer Advocate has the authority to appeal PUC decisions all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
The Commonwealth Attorneys Act directs the Attorney General to appoint a Consumer Advocate subject to confirmation by a majority of the State Senate. The Consumer Advocate acts independently in certain administrative proceedings and/or staffing matters (subject to the Attorney General’s approval). The Consumer Advocate has a budget separate from the Attorney General’s funded by an assessment on utility companies similar to the process for funding of the Public Utility Commission.