Donald P. Lawless

  • 171 Monroe Avenue N.W.
    Suite 1000
    Grand Rapids, MI 49503-2694

Donald P. Lawless is a partner in Barnes & Thornburg’s Labor and Employment Law Department in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and serves as vice chair of the firm's Higher Education Practice Group.


The focus of his business practice is in the pharmaceutical, food processing, manufacturing and service industries. Mr. Lawless’ labor law practice includes contract negotiation, grievance arbitration and defense of unfair labor practice charges. He advises employers on developing and implementing union avoidance strategies and responses to organizing activity. Mr. Lawless provides strategic advice related to workforce restructurings in the merger and acquisition context. He works with clients on the broad range of civil rights compliance and defense, with subspecialties in OFCCP compliance and audits, occupational safety and health, ADA compliance, and facility and program access under Titles II and III of the ADA.

Higher Education

A significant portion of Mr. Lawless’ practice is also devoted to representing college and university clients in labor and employment matters and student affairs, athletic program compliance, internal investigations, tenure denial disputes, and facility and program accessibility issues. He has directed a public university's response to a comprehensive OCR Title IX sexual violence compliance review as well as many discreet student OCR complaints of discrimination typically related to disability accommodation and related litigation.


Mr. Lawless has been listed in The Best Lawyers in America since 2008 and in the 2018 edition of Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business. He chaired the Michigan Chamber's Health and Human Resource Committee from 2012 to 2017 and has been a member of the Chamber’s board of directors since 2016. He is also a member of the American Employment Law Council; the National Association of College and University Attorneys and is active with Lakeshore Advantage, the economic growth agency for Holland/Zeeland and all of Ottawa County.

In the community, he was on the board and served as chair of The Rapid, a Grand Rapids area transportation partnership, which increased its ridership from 5.5 million annually to 10.8 million annually during his tenure from 2003 to 2011. Mr. Lawless also worked with community leaders to establish West Michigan Works, an employer association in Holland-Zeeland, Michigan, focused on employment growth and opportunity. Mr. Lawless also served as second ward commissioner for the City of East Grand Rapids from 1997-2005 and was chair of its Planning Commission from 2007-2014.

Mr. Lawless is a frequent speaker to a variety of organizations such as the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Public Employer Labor Relations Association, the National Association of College and University Attorneys, and numerous industry-specific organizations on such subjects as medical marijuana, strategic union avoidance, NLRB- and OSHA-related developments, USDOL wage and hour and FMLA enforcement, equal pay compliance, and EEO enforcement developments. Mr. Lawless also co-authored the Lexis Practice Advisor for Michigan.