WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced two separate actions to prevent discrimination against District residents who live east of the Anacostia River. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) filed a lawsuit against Lend A Box, a Virginia-based moving company, for rejecting online reservations for rental moving boxes from residents in two zip codes in Wards 7 and 8. The lawsuit seeks a court order halting this discriminatory practice. AG Racine also announced a settlement with Design Builders, a Maryland-based home improvement company that refused to provide services to residents east of the Anacostia River. Although Design Builders maintained that it did not discriminate, it agreed—as part of the settlement—to serve all District residents regardless of location if it continues to operate in the District, pay $15,000 in civil penalties, and enact new policies and training for employees on the District’s Human Rights Act (HRA), which prohibits discrimination by businesses based on their customers’ place of residence.
“District law guarantees that residents will not be denied goods or services because of where they live, and today’s actions demonstrate OAG’s commitment to protecting this basic civil right,” said AG Racine. “Our lawsuit against Lend A Box makes clear that we will take steps to hold accountable any business that refuses to treat District residents equally. At the same time, we welcome the active and responsible cooperation with businesses that want to get on the right side of the law and commit to making their goods and services available to all District residents. We are pleased that in response to our place-of-residence discrimination complaint, Design Builders—while maintaining that it did not discriminate—has agreed not to pick and choose where in the District to provide services.”
The HRA is one of the strongest civil rights laws in the country. It broadly outlaws discrimination by public accommodations—that is, businesses that provide goods and services—based on traits including race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and disability. The HRA also prohibits discrimination based on place of residence or business. Businesses that operate in the District must therefore offer equal services to District residents without discriminating based on where they live.
Lend A Box Lawsuit
Lend A Box is a moving logistics company based out of Virginia that provides packing-and-moving services to residential, commercial, and government clients. One of its primary services is leasing reusable moving boxes, which the company delivers to customers at one location and picks up from another. OAG began investigating Lend A Box’s business practices after receiving a tip about potential place-of-residence discrimination. The company’s online ordering tool for its rental boxes first asks potential customers to provide zip codes for drop off and pick up locations “to see if [the] move is in [the company’s] service area.” The company’s website notes that it serves the D.C. Metro Area. An OAG investigator tested the company’s online reservation tool to see whether residents of every D.C. zip code could reserve rental boxes online and discovered that only 20020 and 20032 in Wards 7 and 8 were excluded.
In its complaint, OAG alleges that Lend A Box violated the HRA by:
- Engaging in place-of-residence discrimination: Lend A Box’s website denies residents moving to or from the 20020 and 20032 zip codes access to the company’s box rental services.
- Engaging in a racially discriminatory practice: Residents in the 20020 and 20032 zip codes are predominantly Black. Lend A Box’s denial of service to potential customers in these areas therefore creates a disparate racial impact.
With this lawsuit, OAG seeks to stop Lend A Box’s discriminatory practices and civil penalties.
A copy of the complaint is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2021-02/Lend-A-Box_complaint_filed.pdf
Design Builders Settlement
Design Builders is a small home improvement company based out of Bethesda, MD, that provides services to customers across the Washington metropolitan area. The company specializes in deck designs and outdoor living spaces.
OAG began an investigation of Design Builders in response to a tip from a District resident who read news coverage of OAG’s settlement with Renewal by Andersen LLC, which resolved an earlier investigation regarding place-of-residence discrimination. The resident described an incident in which the company refused to provide a quote for a project after learning that his property was “over the Anacostia.” When an OAG investigator requested a quote for a hypothetical project at a location east of the River, a Design Builders employee confirmed that the company’s “easternmost territory ends at the Anacostia River.” OAG then filed a complaint against Design Builders alleging place-of-residence discrimination.
In early February, Design Builders agreed to a settlement with OAG that resolves the matter. As part of the settlement, Design Builders will:
- Pay the District $15,000: This payment will resolve all monetary claims stemming from OAG’s complaint.
- Provide service to all District residents: Design Builders will offer equal services to all parts of the District regardless of customers’ location if it continues operating in the District.
- Update company policies and provide training for all employees, officers, and contractors: Design Builders will revise its written policies to reflect the HRA’s prohibitions on various forms of discrimination and ensure that all individuals employed by the company review these policies. The company will also train all employees and management on place-of-residence discrimination and other aspects of the HRA.
In the settlement agreement, Design Builders denies any wrongdoing.
A copy of the settlement is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2021-02/Design-Builders-consent-order_2.1.21.pdf
Protecting Civil Rights
OAG’s Civil Rights Section, established in 2019, investigates and brings lawsuits to challenge discriminatory policies and practices that harm District residents. OAG has reached a settlement with window replacement company Renewal by Andersen after it illegally refused to do business in certain District neighborhoods. Additionally, the office has also secured settlements in cases related to discrimination against housing vouchers holders against Curtis Investment Group, requiring the company to pay $900,000 to the District, and Evolve LLCwhich resulted in a $250,000 penalty. OAG has active lawsuits suit against Daro Management and several real estate companies and professionals regarding allegations of source-of-income and race discrimination against low-income renters, and has collaborated with Apartments.com and Zillow to fight such housing discrimination on those platforms. In 2019, OAG held several Civil Rights Listening Sessions across the District to hear from residents about their civil rights concerns and to help the Civil Rights Section define its priorities. Learn more about the District’s civil rights protections and how OAG is working to enforce them.
If you believe you have been a victim of discrimination, you may report it to OAG’s Civil Rights Section by:
- Calling (202) 727-3400
- E-mailing OAGCivilRights@dc.gov
- Mailing OAG, ATTN: Civil Rights Section at 400 6th Street, NW, Suite 10100 Washington, D.C. 20001
OAG’s civil rights work complements the work of the Office of Human Rights (OHR), which is the primary District agency that investigates individual discrimination complaints. You can file a complaint with OHR at ohr.dc.gov or call 202-727-4559.