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 and investigates consumer complaints. It takes legal action against companies that engage in unfair business practices in cases where a lawsuit by the Attorney General serves the public interest and benefits the citizens of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Attorneys Act requires that the Attorney General maintain a Bureau of Consumer Protection and appoint its director. The Bureau has two main units, a General Litigation Unit and a Regulatory Compliance Unit. The General Litigation Unit handles cases involving violations of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. The Regulatory and Compliance Unit handles cases involving enforcement of those statutes where the Bureau is a regulator or registrar such as the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act, the Health Club Act, or the Do Not Call Act, among 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.
Hard-working Pennsylvanians deserve honest wages and fair treatment in the workplace. The Fair Labor Section, through proactive, affirmative actions and public educational efforts, helps to assure that hard-working Pennsylvanians receive fair treatment in the workplace and supports employers that comply with labor and employment laws. To accomplish these objectives, the Fair Labor Section utilizes the civil and criminal resources of the Office of the Attorney General to investigate and pursue actions to end wage theft and discriminatory practices in the workplace; works in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s Bureau of Labor Law Compliance and the U.S. Department of Labor; engages in policy actions; and conducts public outreach to educate workers and the public regarding workers’ rights.
The Health Care Section mediates, investigates and takes legal action on behalf of Pennsylvania consumers against entities that engage in unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the health care industry. The Attorney General will initiate investigations that are in the public interest and will benefit the citizens of the Commonwealth. The Health Care Section is not empowered to act as a legal representative for individuals, but mediates and investigates individual complaints. A series of complaints about a particular health care entity, or complaints alleging deceptive practices or policies, may lead to investigations and subsequent legal action.
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.