Danuta Bembenista Panich

Shareholder Indianapolis | Chicago

Danuta (“Donna”) Bembenista Panich has a varied practice advising and advocating for employers.  Since graduating at the top of her law school class in 1978, Ms. Panich has dealt with all aspects of labor and employment law.  However, since 1995, she has focused primarily on advising and defending employers – including institutions of higher learning and many of the nation’s largest companies –  in class actions, multi-plaintiff and collective actions, pattern and practice claims, and other “bet the company” matters such as investigations of catastrophic industrial accidents.   In all such matters, Ms. Panich brings to bear a calm, orderly, and strategically insightful approach.  She combines aggressive defense with civility, and excels at demystifying the most complex issues.

Both within the context of complex litigation and outside litigation realms, Ms. Panich has dealt extensively with electronic discovery and litigation preparedness.  As a result of this experience, her wealth of knowledge, and her penchant for detail, when Ms. Panich left Mayer Brown to join Ogletree Deakins in 2007, she established, and has since served, as chair of Ogletree Deakins’ Record Retention and E-Discovery Practice Group.  In this role, she helps professional services firms and companies plan for litigation and protect data privacy by developing programs for records management, electronic discovery, and legacy data remediation.

Professional, bar, and trade associations, law schools, CLE providers, and employers frequently ask Ms. Panich to speak or provide training on litigation techniques, electronic discovery and records management, as well as various employment related issues such as wage-hour, harassment, diversity, and occupational safety and health.  Ms. Panich has also authored several articles on these topics, and is active, through her leadership role in bar associations, in developing continuing legal education programs for practitioners and their clients.


Experience

  • Class and Collective Action Defense.  Ms. Panich has defended industry leaders as well as regional and local employers in a wide array of private sector industries, including telecommunications, financial services, meatpacking, aerospace, technology, transportation, chemicals, petroleum, retail and food services.   She has also represented clients in the public and not-for-profit sectors.  Ms. Panich is experienced in all aspects of strategy and defense.  She has coordinated multi-jurisdiction litigation, led defense teams, served as discovery counsel, and is often called upon to advise clients and colleagues on thorny preservation and spoliation issues.  No matter her role in a particular case, Ms. Panich is the consummate team player who never loses sight of the goal:  to mount a cost-effective, aggressive, and successful defense with the least possible disruption to client operations.
  • Wage Hour.  Ms. Panich has defended employers against a variety of off-the-clock claims (preliminary work in call centers; donning and doffing; denial of rest and meal periods; altering time records) and challenges to exempt status (administrative exemption; executive exemption; salaried status; application of partial exemption for public safety workers).  The claims have ranged from plant-wide to entire states, regions, and in a number of cases, nationwide.  Her clients include large national and regional telecommunications companies, major retailers, large meat processors, well-known fast food chains, and leaders within the financial services industry.  Ms. Panich has dealt with collective actions under the FLSA, class actions under state law, and hybrid actions involving a combination of the two.
  • EEO.  Besides helping employers negotiate the shoals of federal, state, and local administrative agencies, Ms. Panich has defended major companies in significant cases such as a purported nationwide class of all women in exempt jobs in a leading international technology company alleging discrimination in pay and promotion practices; a collective action against an international chemical/plastics manufacturer challenging a large scale reduction in force under the ADEA; pattern and practice claims brought by the EEOC under the ADEA against an oil refiner challenging the company’s restructuring of its management ranks;  region-wide class claim under the ADA against a leading telecommunications company alleging failure to accommodate; Title VII class claim in the entertainment industry alleging a hostile work environment.  Ms. Panich has also championed the cause of religious exemptions in higher education.
  • Records Retention,  E-Discovery, and Data Privacy.   Shortly after the millennium, Ms. Panich began working with e-discovery and records retention issues in the context of class litigation.  She subsequently became a core member of the then cutting edge e-discovery practice at her prior firm.  Upon joining Ogletree Deakins Law Firm in 2007, she founded Ogletree’s Records Retention and E-Discovery Practice Group.  In addition to providing litigation preparedness services to firm clients and serving as discovery counsel and advisor in varied litigation, Ms. Panich serves on the Firm’s steering committee for litigation support and the steering committee of the Data Privacy Practice Group, and was instrumental in the development and implementation of the Firm’s innovative Discovery the Ogletree Way Initiative.
  • Higher Education.  Throughout her career, Ms. Panich has advised and represented colleges and universities in connection with both employment and student matters.  She prepares policies governing institutional relationships with faculty, staff and students and assists in their implementation in a wide variety of circumstances, including disciplinary proceedings, reductions in force, and harassment and assault investigations (including pursuant to Title IX).  In addition to traditional defense of matters before administrative agencies and courts, Ms. Panich is experienced in dealing with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

Professional Activities and Speeches

Professional Activities:

  • Federal Bar Association (Labor & Employment Law Section; Officer 2003- 2014; Section Chair 2005-2007; Professional Ethics Committee)
  • Munster Medical Research Foundation (Board Member and Chair, Pension Committee)
  • American Bar Association (Labor and Employment Law Section)
  • Illinois State Bar Association (Labor and Employment Law Section)
  • Indiana State Bar Association (Labor and Employment Law Section; Member Women in the Law and CLE Committees)
  • Sedona Conference, Working Group on Electronic Document Retention and Production (Writing Team - Commentary on Defense of Process)
  • Friends of E-Discovery, Indianapolis Chapter (Founding Member)
  • Adjunct Instructor, NITA deposition and appellate training programs (2001-2007)

Speeches:

  • Rossdale CLE - ''Taking and Defending Powerful Depositions'' - Miami - December 03, 2014
  • Indiana Chamber of Commerce - ''FMLA Update'' - Indianapolis - December 2014
  • Ogletree Deakins Workplace Strategies Seminar - ''Trick or Treat? Avoiding E-Skeletons in Your Company's Electronic Closet'' - Las Vegas - May 07, 2014
  • ICLEF - ''Six Ways Technology Has Changed Employment Law'' - Indianapolis - April 30, 2014
  • National Business Institute - ''Employment Law Update'' - Indianapolis - February 2014
  • National Business Institute - ''Imperative Information that Every Employee Handbook Should Contain'' - Indianapolis - February 2014
  • Indiana Chamber of Commerce - ''Are Employers Winning FMLA Cases'' - Indianapolis - December 2013
  • National Business Institute - ''Employment Discrimination Law: Retaliation and Whistleblowing'' - Indianapolis - December 2013
  • Ogletree Deakins Corporate Labor and Employment Counsel Exclusive - ''High Effort, Higher Stakes: Effective Management of Electronic Discovery'' - Charleston - November 2013
  • Federal Bar Association Labor and Employment Law Conference - ''Wage and Hour'' - New Orleans - May 2013
  • National Business Institute - '''HR Law: What You Need to Know Now' & 'Building a Better Handbook''' - Indianapolis - May 2013
  • Ogletree Deakins Workplace Strategies Seminar - ''E-Discovery in Employment Litigation: The Next Generation'' - New Orleans - May 2013
  • National Business Institute - '''The Courts Speak' & 'Federal Court Perspectives on Discovery of Social Networking Sites and Foreign Discovery''' - Indianapolis - April 2013
  • Sedona Conference Mid-Year Meeting - '''Defense of Process' (Drafting Team)'' - St. Louis - April 2013
  • Duke Law Conference - Discussion Participant - ''Technology Assisted Review'' - Washington, D.C. - April 2013
  • Strafford Publications Inc. Webinar - ''E-Discovery in Employment Litigation'' - January 2013
  • Exterro - ''E-Discovery Interviews: Techniques to quickly identify relevant ESI when the trigger is pulled'' - Webinar - May 2012
  • Strafford Publications, Inc. Webinar - ''E-Discovery in Employment Investigations and Litigation'' - January 2012
  • National Business Institute - ''Preparing For Electronic Discovery In Employment Litigation'' - Indianapolis - December 2011
  • Federal Bar Association Annual Meeting CLE - ''Agency Activism'' - Chicago - September 2011
  • Ogletree Deakins Seminar - ''Eye on Employment Law: The Latest Labor & Employment Law Developments'' - South Bend - September 2011
  • Federal Bar Association Annual Meeting CLE - ''Agency Activism'' - Chicago - September 2011
  • Strafford Publications, Inc. webinar - ''E-Discovery in Wage and Hour Litigation'' - June 2011
  • Indiana Chamber of Commerce - ''Mastering FMLA Paperwork'' - Indianapolis - June 2011
  • Ogletree Deakins Workplace Strategies Seminar - ''Controlling E-Discovery Costs Through Effective Partnering'' - Chicago - May 2011
  • Ogletree Deakins Workplace Strategies Seminar - ''The Future of Class Actions'' - Chicago - May 2011
  • Ogletree Deakins Seminar - ''Eye on Employment Law: The Latest Labor & Employment Law Developments'' - Indianapolis - April 2011
  • Fourth Bi-Annual Labor and Employment Law Conference sponsored by Federal Bar Association - ''Class and Collective Actions'' - San Juan - February 2011
  • Fourth Bi-Annual Labor and Employment Law Conference sponsored by Federal Bar Association - ''Meeting the Challenges of FMLA, ADA, and GINA Documentation'' - San Juan - February 2011
  • Ogletree Deakins Seminar - ''Labor Law Update'' - Merrillville - November 2010
  • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Foundation - ''Current Wage and Hour Issues'' - Indianapolis - October 2010
  • Strafford Publications, Inc. webinar - ''E-Discovery in Employment Litigation – Cost Saving Strategies for Preserving, Obtaining and Protecting Electronically Stored Information'' - October 2010
  • Des Plaines River Valley ARMA - ''Get Ready, Get Set, Let’s Litigate!'' - Mundelein - September 2010
  • Northwest Illinois ARMA-AIIM - ''Deposition Training for Records Managers'' - Vernon Hills - July 2010
  • FMLA Conference sponsored by Indiana Chamber of Commerce - ''Getting Your FMLA House in Order: Proper FMLA Documentation'' - Indianapolis - June 2010
  • Ogletree Deakins Workplace Strategies Seminar - ''The Class and Collective Action Phenomenon'' - Las Vegas - May 2010
  • Ogletree Deakins Workplace Strategies Seminar - ''High Stakes Employment Cases – Improving Your Odds in ‘Bet-the-Company’ Litigation'' - Las Vegas - May 2010
  • Ogletree Deakins Workplace Strategies Seminar - ''E-Discovery – Avoiding the Court’s Wrath'' - Las Vegas - May 2010
  • American Records Management Association - ''Deposing Records Managers'' - Indianapolis - February 2010
  • Ogletree Deakins Seminar - ''‘Private’ Information: Employers’ Obligations'' - Indianapolis - October 2009
  • Indiana Chamber of Commerce - ''How to Handle the Employee on FMLA Leave'' - Indianapolis - June 2009
  • Ogletree Deakins Workplace Strategies Seminar - ''E-Discovery: Avoiding Ten Critical Employer Mistakes'' - Miami - May 2009
  • Indiana University School of Law - ''Overview of Occupational Safety and Health'' - Bloomington - April 2009
  • American Records Management Association - ''Deposition Training for Records Managers'' - Indianapolis - February 2009
  • Third Bi-Annual Labor and Employment Law Conference sponsored by Federal Bar Association - ''Litigating Wage and Hour Claims'' - San Juan - January 2009
  • Ogletree Deakins Seminar - ''Tackling Tough Wage and Hour Issues'' - Indianapolis - October 2008
  • Ohio State Bar Association - ''Class and Collective Actions in Wage Hour Law'' - Columbus - October 2008
  • ADA Conference sponsored by Indiana Chamber of Commerce - ''Leave as an Accommodation under the ADA and Title VII'' - Indianapolis - September 2008
  • Strafford Publications - ''E-Discovery in Employment Litigation: Creating the Internal Corporate ESI Plan'' - webinar - July 2008
  • FMLA conference sponsored by Indiana Chamber of Commerce - ''Advanced Eligibility Issues'' - Indianapolis - June 2008
  • Ogletree Deakins Workplace Strategies Seminar - ''Getting Your House in Order… Preparing and Adhering to Effective Records Retention Policies'' - New Orleans - May 2008
  • Ogletree Deakins Seminar - ''Preparing and Adhering to Effective Records Retention Policies'' - ind - April 2008
  • Employment Law Conference sponsored by Alabama Chapter of the Federal Bar Association - ''Collective Bargaining'' - Huntsville - April 2008
  • Federal Bar Association, Chicago Chapter - ''Retaliation and Whistleblower Claims – The New Hot Ticket in Employment Litigation'' - Chicago - January 2008
  • Conference on Workplace Enforcement and Immigration, sponsored by the Federal Bar Association, Chicago Chapter, in cooperation with the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education - ''Labor and Employment Law – Employment of Unauthorized Workers'' - Chicago - November 2007
  • Ogletree Deakins Seminar - ''Hot Wage and Hour Issues'' - Indianapolis - October 2007
  • Client Presentation - ''Preparing for E-Discovery'' - Carmel - October 2007
  • IMPACT - ''Developing Record Retention Programs'' - Zionsville
  • Strafford Publications, Inc. Teleconference - ''E-Discovery in Employment Litigation: Information Management Strategies under the New Federal Rules'' - June 2007
  • Ogletree Deakins Seminar - ''Electronic Discovery and the Federal Rule Amendments'' - Chicago - May 2007
  • Federal Bar Association, Chicago Chapter - ''Electronic Discovery, A Judge’s Roundtable (moderator)'' - Chicago - April 2007
  • Florida Bar Association - ''Developments in E-Discovery'' - Chicago - March 2007
  • Second Bi-Annual Labor and Employment Law Conference, sponsored by the Federal Bar Association - ''Occupational Safety & Health: An Overview of the Act and Its Administration'' - San Juan - February 2007
  • Conference on Electronic Discovery, sponsored by the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education - ''Meeting the Challenges of E-Discovery under the 2006 Federal Rule Amendments'' - Chicago - January 2007
  • Conference on Electronic Discovery, sponsored by the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education - ''Records Management Basics: Retention, Preservation & Avoiding Spoliation'' - Chicago - January 2007
  • Conference on Workplace Enforcement and Immigration, sponsored by the Federal Bar Association, Chicago Chapter, in cooperation with the Immigration Policy Center - ''Labor and Employment Law Basics'' - Chicago - November 2006
  • Business Roundtable sponsored by VMS Professionals - ''Labor and Employment Law Issues in Outsourcing'' - Chicago - November 2006
  • Journal of Law and Technology, University of North Carolina School of Law - ''E-Discovery Issues in Employment Law'' - Chapel Hill - October 2006
  • West Legalworks and Kroll Ontrack, Inc. - ''E-Discovery: An A to Z Workshop; (Panelist) Building the Digital Evidence Response Team; Preservation & Spoliation and Strategies for Cost Containment; (Moderator) Using the Federal Rule Amendments to Advantage'' - Chicago - June 2006
  • Third Annual Conference of Vendor Management Systems Professionals sponsored by McDonalds Corporation - ''Labor and Employment Law Issues When Utilizing A Contingent Workforce'' - Oak Brook - June 2006
  • Duke University School of Law - ''Law and Technology – The Impact of E-Discovery on the Practice of Law (guest lecturer)'' - Durham - 2006 - 2011
  • Strafford Publications, Inc. Teleconference - ''E-Discovery in Employment Litigation: Effective Strategies for Managing the Unique Information and Privacy Challenges'' - November 2005
  • Professional Education Broadcast Network - ''EEOC Mediation – Settling Employment Disputes without Litigation'' - Teleconference - September 2005
  • Employment Law Conference of the Federal Bar Association - ''Litigation Issues in Sexual Harassment Claims'' - San Juan - July 2005
  • Loyola University School of Law - ''Labor and Employment Issues in Business Transactions'' - Chicago - 1990 - 2011

Published Works

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Media Quotes

December 2014 - The Federal Lawyer - "Labor and Employment Corner - Supreme Court Holds NLRB Member Recess Appointments Unconstitutional"
October/November 2012 - Executive Counsel - "A Systemic Approach to Custodian Interviews"

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