Brian L. Schwalb Sworn In As Attorney General for the District of Columbia
January 2, 2023
Commits To Fighting Persistent Inequities, Defending and Strengthening Democratic Rights, Improving Public Safety & Ensuring All District Youth Can Live Hopeful, Prosperous Lives
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Brian L. Schwalb was sworn in as the Attorney General for the District of Columbia. In his inaugural remarks, AG Schwalb committed to using the law to ensure the city’s resources and opportunities are equitably shared, to defend and strengthen fundamental democratic rights of District residents, to hold everyone accountable in the work to keep people safe and build a hopeful, prosperous future for District youth, and to build on the independence and excellence of the office by listening to District residents and taking action based on real community needs.
AG Schwalb was sworn in alongside Mayor Muriel Bowser, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, and six recently elected members of the District Council at an inauguration ceremony at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
Watch the full recording of AG Schwalb’s inauguration speech here.
Read AG Schwalb’s full inauguration speech here.
Highlights from AG Schwalb’s Inaugural Address:
AG Schwalb on his priorities – fighting for equity, safety, and democracy:
- “There is no better place in the world to live than the Nation’s capital. We enjoy an abundance of resources – environmental beauty, cultural treasure, financial stability. We grow, attract and retain extraordinary human talent. We are awash in critical resources that fuel growth, innovation and prosperity.
- “But we face persistent inequities. Far too often, our abundant resources – and the opportunities that they create – are not shared equally. As a result, some but not all share fairly in D.C.’s prosperity. How do we close widening gaps in income, homeownership, business ownership and access to health care? How do we make sure that hard-working people who built our city – and who every day make it run – can afford to live here?
- “We also face violence and trauma. Everyone deserves to feel safe in their neighborhoods – walking their dog, going to school, shopping for groceries. How do we protect our neighbors from gun violence and traffic violence, and ensure that parents see their children and their grandchildren grow up?
- “And, we face threats to our democratic values. How do we preserve fundamental rights – rights to reproductive freedom; to love who we choose; to be free from racism, bigotry and hate; to vote and fully participate in our representative democracy?
AG Schwalb on his commitment to listening and collaborating:
- “As I reflect on how we find answers to these questions of equity, safety and democracy, I think about advice my father gave me. Today – January 2nd – would have been my dad’s 87th birthday. When he left the Justice Department in 1965, many of the law firms in Washington wouldn’t consider hiring him because he was Jewish. I can only imagine how he’d feel seeing his son standing on this stage taking the oath of office as D.C.’s Attorney General. Dad’s advice to me was simple: God gives us two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen twice as much as you talk. As your independently-elected Attorney General, I will listen to everyone. I will collaborate with anyone who is committed to what is best for the District. But I will be beholden to no one – no one other than the residents who have retained me to represent Washington’s best interests.”
AG Schwalb’s message to Capitol Hill and commitment to fight for District residents’ democratic rights:
- “An independent Attorney General is also essential as we strive toward fuller representative democracy, expanded home rule, and statehood. On this note, a message to Capitol Hill: regardless of party, I pledge to be a partner with you in good faith. We don’t have to agree on everything before we work together on anything. But make no mistake: Washingtonians have put their trust in me to stand up for our rights, our autonomy and our values. I will not let them down.”
AG Schwalb on his commitment to hold everyone accountable in the work to keep District residents safe:
- “We do have to hold people who break the law accountable. And we will. But accountability is a two-way street. As government officials and community leaders, we also need to hold ourselves accountable. We are all accountable for investing wisely in the future of our kids. After all, our future is in their hands. My office will never give up on any child.”
Please note that the Office of Attorney General’s social media accounts were updated as of today. You can stay up to date on the latest from our office and AG Schwalb by following @DCAttorneyGen on Twitter, and @DCAttorneyGeneral on Instagram.
About Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb
Brian L. Schwalb has committed his legal career to using the law in service of others, advocating for what matters most to the people and organizations he represents. As the District of Columbia’s second independently-elected attorney general, AG Schwalb is committed to fighting for D.C., advancing the public interest, and ensuring that the law works to make the District safer, healthier, and more equitable for all who live and work here.
Brian is a third-generation Washingtonian. After graduating from Duke University and Harvard Law School, and completing a two-year judicial clerkship, Brian served as a trial attorney in the Tax Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. After completing his service with the Justice Department, Brian entered private practice representing clients – individuals, businesses, nonprofits and families — in a multitude of high stakes matters including advocating for people injured by excessive, unconstitutional police force, defrauded out of their assets, and fighting for their lives on death row.
Among other professional recognitions, Brian is a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, whose membership is limited to the top 1% of area trial lawyers and whose careers have reflected the highest standards of ethical conduct, professionalism, civility, and collegiality. Brian is also an experienced law firm leader, having served as Venable’s firm-wide Vice Chairman and then as the Partner-in-Charge of Venable’s D.C. office.
Outside the practice of law, Brian has volunteered his time, legal services, leadership, and mentorship to organizations dedicated to enhancing D.C.’s justice system, mentoring D.C. Public School students, and reducing the local impact of HIV/AIDS. Brian is also an active supporter of cancer treatment and prevention, Holocaust education, and has served as an officer and trustee of his synagogue.
Brian and his wife Mickie Simon live in Ward 3 where they raised their three daughters – Jessica, Allison, and Sydney.
AG Racine Secures $3.5 Million from Grubhub for Illegally Charging Hidden Fees, Using Deceptive Marketing Tactics to Boost Profits at Expense of Customers
December 30, 2022
OAG Lawsuit Forces Delivery Company to Implement Sweeping Changes That Will Set Industry Standard, Protecting District Consumers
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced that Grubhub Holdings, Inc. and Grubhub, Inc. (Grubhub) will pay $3.5 million for charging customers hidden fees and using deceptive marketing techniques to increase profits in violation of District consumer protection laws.
“Grubhub used every trick in the book to manipulate customers into paying far more than they owed, and even worse, they did so at the height of a global pandemic when District residents were already struggling to make ends meet,” said AG Racine. “Grubhub’s hidden fees and misleading marketing tactics were designed to get the company an extra buck at the expense of DC residents – but we’re not letting them get away with it. No company, big or small, can take advantage of DC residents without consequence.”
Grubhub is a food delivery company that operates in more than 4,000 cities across the country. Consumers place orders through the company’s website or app, which then connects the order with a “gig economy” worker who picks it up and delivers it to the consumer. The company makes money by charging consumers fees when they order delivery, and by charging fees and commissions to many of the restaurants that appear on its platform. In 2020 alone—as the COVID-19 pandemic limited indoor dining in many places, including in the District—Grubhub generated approximately $1.8 billion in revenue.
In March, 2022 the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) sued Gruhub for alleged violations of the District’s Consumer Protection and Procedures Act (CPPA), which prohibits a wide variety of deceptive and unlawful business practices. Under the CPPA, it is illegal to make misrepresentations about products or services, or to provide products or services that violate other District laws.
As a result of OAG’s action, Grubhub must pay $3.5 million, distributed as follows:
- $2.7 million will be paid back to affected customers. Those with active Grubhub accounts will receive a refundable credit and if the credit is not used within 90 days the money will be sent to customers in the form of a check.
- $800,000 civil penalty paid to the District.
Additionally, Grubhub must significantly change its business practices to ensure compliance with District law in ways that will set the industry standard for disclosing pricing information to consumers. To ensure no future violations of the CPPA, Grubhub must:
- Prominently disclose to consumers when it presents search results that additional fees may apply at checkout;
- List the name and amount of each fee as a separate line item at checkout;
- Stop its practice of combining taxes and fees into one line item;
- Stop advertising that Grubhub+ subscribers receive “free delivery” and instead specify that the $0 delivery fee only applies to eligible orders and that other fees may apply;
- Stop charging menu prices higher than those available at the restaurant itself unless it clearly discloses, both on the menu and at checkout, that prices may be higher on Grubhub; and
- Shut down all microsites for restaurants located in the District or transfer ownership to the restaurant.
Read the full agreement here.
This matter was handled by attorneys in the Public Advocacy Division: Adam Teitelbaum, Director, Office of Consumer Protection, Laura Beckerman, Senior Trial Counsel, Gary Tan, Spencer Scoville, and Christine Gephardt, Assistant Attorneys General.
Ensuring Gig Economy Companies Follow the Law
AG Racine has also worked to hold gig economy companies accountable for following the same laws as brick-and-mortar businesses—including consumer protection laws and wage and hour laws—and to stop companies from charging illegal hidden fees. OAG sued food delivery service, DoorDash, for its practice of misleading and encouraging consumers to tip for food deliveries, and then pocketing those tips instead of passing them along to workers. OAG recovered $1.5 million in restitution that was returned to DoorDash drivers to replace tips the company kept for itself. OAG also sued Instacart for including “service fees” on its platform that looked much like a tip for workers, but instead went to profit Instacart. OAG recovered $950,000 in restitution to car owners that experienced theft or damage to their vehicles while listed on the platform from Getaround, a car-sharing company, for failing to pay its taxes and misrepresenting its safety and security features.
How to Report Illegal or Unfair Business
To report unfair business practices, scams, or fraud, you can submit a consumer complaint to OAG by:
- Texting 202-738-5212
- Messaging OAG using the chat feature at: oag.dc.gov/consumer
- Submitting a complaint online at: https://oag.dc.gov/consumer-protection/submit-consumer-complaint
- Calling (202) 442-9828
- Emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
AG Racine Announces Google Must Pay $9.5 Million for Using “Dark Patterns” and Deceptive Location Tracking Practices that Invade Users’ Privacy
December 30, 2022
Continues OAG’s Work to Hold Big Tech Companies Accountable and Protect Consumers’ Privacy
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced that Google will pay $9.5 million to resolve allegations that it deceived and manipulated consumers to gain access to their location data, including making it nearly impossible for users to stop their location from being tracked.
Significantly, pursuant to the settlement agreement, Google has also agreed to several important changes to how the company informs users how user location data is collected, stored, and used by the company.
“Given the vast level of tracking and surveillance that technology companies can embed into their widely used products, it is only fair that consumers be informed of how important user data, including information about their every move, is gathered, tracked, and utilized by these companies. Significantly, this resolution also provides users with the ability and choice to opt of being tracked, as well as restrict the manner in which user information may be shared with third parties,” said AG Racine. “I am proud of how the exceptional lawyers and professionals in my office have creatively applied the District’s strong consumer protection laws to set the standard nationally and provide users far greater control of their personal information.”
OAG opened an investigation into Google’s location tracking practices following a 2018 Associated Press story revealing that Google “records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.” The investigation confirmed other deceptive conduct, including a number of “Dark Pattern” practices, which are deliberate design choices that trick or coerce consumers into taking actions that don’t benefit them. Google’s dark patterns included repeatedly prompting users to enable location in certain apps and claiming products would not function properly if location was not enabled, when in fact location was not needed to even use the app. Based on its investigation, OAG filed a complaint to stop Google’s violations of the District’s consumer protection laws, which included:
- Making it impossible for users to opt out of having their location tracked;
- Deceiving users about their ability to protect their privacy through account settings;
- Misleading Android users about their ability to protect their privacy through their device settings; and
- Relying on “dark patterns” to undermine users’ informed choices.
Under the terms of the settlement, Google will be required to:
- Pay a $9,500,000 penalty to the District.
- Issue notifications to users who currently have certain location settings enabled. These notifications must instruct users on how to disable each setting, delete the data collected by the settings, and limit how long Google keeps their data.
- Clearly inform users of data collection when they enable location-related Google account settings. In addition, when users create a new Google account, Google must advise the user of location-related account settings that are enabled by default and provide an opportunity for the user to opt out.
- Maintain a webpage that discloses Google’s policies and practices concerning location data. This webpage will include information about what data Google collects, how users can check their location-related account settings and disable such settings, how users can limit Google’s uses of their location information, and how each location-related account setting impacts the collection, retention, or use of location information by Google.
- Improve users’ ability to identify location-related controls. Google will add language on the Account Data & Privacy Page to help users identify location-related account setting controls. Google will also give users the ability to disable a location-related account setting and delete the location information stored by that setting in a way that does not require the user to navigate to a separate surface or page.
- Limit sharing of users’ data and retention of data. Google will not share users’ precise location information with a third-party advertiser without affirmative consent from the user. Google will also automatically delete location information that came from a device or from an IP address in Web and App Activity within 30 days of obtaining that location information.
- Prepare annual compliance reports. The reports will detail Google’s compliance with this settlement agreement.
A copy of the settlement agreement is available here.
This matter was handled by former Assistant Attorney General Beth Feldstein; Deputy Director of the Office of Consumer Protection, Jennifer Rimm; former Director of the Office of Consumer Protection, Benjamin Wiseman; and Director of the Office of Consumer Protection, Adam Teitelbaum.
AG Racine’s Efforts to Stop Abuses by Big Tech
This lawsuit builds on AG Racine’s efforts to hold big tech companies and their executives accountable for their deceptive, predatory practices and to stand up for District residents when they are harmed. Among many other actions, AG Racine filed a lawsuit against Facebook for failing to protect the data of its users when Cambridge Analytica acquired and used that data to manipulate the 2016 election. He filed an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon to stop anticompetitive and unlawful behavior that controls prices across the entire online market. He sued Google for deceiving and manipulating consumers to gain access to their location data, including making it nearly impossible for users to stop their location from being tracked. He introduced legislation before the DC Council – which passed in 2020 – to modernize the District’s data breach law, strengthen protections for residents’ personal information, and prevent identity theft. AG Racine has also worked to make sure gig economy companies – like DoorDash, GrubHub, and Getaround – follow the same rules as brick-and-mortar businesses, including wage and hour laws.