A certified specialist in employment law since 1993, Malissa has a long history of fighting for social justice in cases that change lives.

Her causes have included a federal case that opened the doors of state-supported military schools to women. That case, The United States of America and Nancy Mellette v. James E. Jones, Jr., Chairman, Board of  Visitors of The Citadel, was still being litigated when The Citadel relented.

In South Carolina, Burnette represented Tara Bailey in a case that made it clear: girls can play contact sports in South Carolina public schools.

More recently, she and Nekki Shutt, another of the firm’s founding partners, were lead counsel in the case that made same-sex marriage legal in South Carolina.

She’s also fought to protect the rights of individuals, such as the police chief in a small South Carolina town who was fired after 23 years’ service. Burnette helped her win back her job after the mayor forced her out. He denied it was a case of workplace discrimination even after a recording of a homophobic rant was released.

Malissa is a skilled litigator, practicing in both state and federal courts. Most of her cases involve representing people in complex employment cases. These often involve issues such as:

  • Discrimination
  • Civil and constitutional rights
  • Sexual harassment
  • Breach of contract
  • Non-compete agreements
  • Wage claims
  • Academic tenure and promotions issues

In addition to employment law, Malissa also practices family law and personal injury law. She’s a certified federal mediator and experienced arbitrator as well.

Malissa is married to Michael G. LeFever. Their daughter, Grant Burnette LeFever, is an attorney at Burnette Shutt & McDaniel. She has served her community and the legal profession through numerous Bar positions, civic organizations, church boards and commissions.

She’s also served the public through a number of appointed positions over the years, ranging from The Governor’s Domestic Violence Task Force to the board of directors of South Carolina Equality. She was former Lt. Gov. Nancy Stevenson’s chief of staff.


  • United States Supreme Court, 1998
  • United States Court of Appeals
  • United States District Court, District of South Carolina, 1978
  • South Carolina, 1977

  • Certified Specialist in Employment and Labor Law
  • Certified Federal Court Mediator

  • University of South Carolina School of Law, JD, 1977
  • University of South Carolina, bachelor’s of sociology, 1971
  • Winthrop College, 1968-69

  • South Carolina Bar
    • Diversity Task Force, 2013-
    • Senior Lawyers Division, President, 2015; Chair, Lawyers ‘Assistance Program, 2015 to present
  • SC Women Lawyers Association, Chair, Pay Equity Task Force, 2013-15
  • SC Victims Assistance Network, Board of Directors 2011-1
  • Richland County Bar Association
  • Association of Trial Lawyers of America
  • South Carolina Trial Lawyers Association
  • South Carolina Women Lawyers Association – Founding Member
  • SC Equality Board of Directors
    • Post-DOMA Litigation Task Force, Chair 2013 to present
  • South Carolina Equality, Board of Directors, 2009-17
  • Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, Trustee Advisory Council, 2001 to present
  • South Carolina Reproductive Health PAC
  • South Carolina Coalition for Healthy Families
  • Sierra Club
  • Friends of the Congaree Swamp
  • Emerge SC – Founding Member
Honors & Awards

  • Platinum James Petigru Compleat Lawyer Award for Professional Excellence, University of South Carolina School of Law Alumni Council, 2019
  • Best Lawyers in America, 2019, in the practice areas of 1) Civil Rights Law; 2) Employment Law – Individuals; 3) Litigation – Labor and Employment; 4) Mediation
  • Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network Social Justice Award, 2018
  • Jean Galloway Bissell Award, SC Women Lawyers Association, 2016
  • Columbia Urban League Stephen G. Morrison Social Justice Award 2017
  • Best Lawyers in America, 2018, in the practice areas of 1) Civil Rights Law; 2) Employment Law – Individuals; 3) Litigation – Labor and Employment; 4) Mediation. Lawyer of the Year in Mediation
  • Best Lawyers in America, 2017, in the practice areas of 1) Civil Rights Law; 2) Employment Law – Individuals; 3) Litigation – Labor and Employment; 4) Mediation
  • Top 50 Most Influential of the Midlands 2015 by Columbia Business Monthly. Co-honoree with Nekki Shutt
  • Best Lawyers in America, 2016, in the practice areas of 1) Labor & Employment Law Litigation, and 2) Mediation. Lawyer of the Year in Employment Law-Individuals
  • Best Lawyers in America, 2015, in the practice areas of 1) Employment Law-Individuals 2) Labor & Employment Law Litigation, and 3) Mediation
  • Lawyer of the Year by Best Lawyers in America (Labor & Employment Law-Litigation), 2014
  • Best Lawyers in America, 2014, in the practice areas of 1) Employment Law-Individuals 2) Labor & Employment Law Litigation, and 3) Mediation
  • South Carolina Super Lawyers 2008-19 (Plaintiff Employment Litigation)
  • “Legal Elite of the Midlands”, 2011, 2013-14, 2017 by Columbia Metropolitan Magazine in fields of 1) Employment Law- Individuals 2) Litigation- Labor & Employment Law and 3) Mediation; Government Law and Employment Law, 2016; Labor & Employment Law, 2018
  • 2012 Lawyer of the Year by Best Lawyers in America (Employment Law-Individuals)
  • 2013 Best Lawyers in America in the practice areas of 1) Labor and Employment Law Litigation-Individuals and 2) Mediation
  • Legal Elite of the Midlands for Labor and Employment Law in 2011 and 2013 by Columbia Business Monthly Magazine
  • Maintained the highest rating of “AV” from Martindale-Hubbell continuously since 1997
Representative Engagements & Experience

  • Academic employees and students in public and private schools and universities
  • Non-profit organizations, including churches, service organizations and organizations for professionals
  • Individual employees with employment issues or desiring to prevent negative employment outcomes
  • Employers in need of defense or desiring to mitigate liability through policies and training
Published Works

  • Co-author and editor of Labor and Employment Law for South Carolina Lawyers, 1999, 2004, 2007 and 2011 editions.
  • Co-author of the South Carolina section of Employment at Will: A State-by-State Survey, ABA, 2011- present.
  • Author of SC Labor and Employment Law: SC Anti-Discrimination Laws, Thompson Reuters, 2011-present.
  • Author of approximately 30 articles on employment issues for publications of the South Carolina Bar, the South Carolina Trial Lawyers Association, the University of South Carolina’s South Carolina Forum and the University of South Carolina Business and Economic Review.

Presenter and author of more than 70 continuing legal education seminars for organizations including: South Carolina Bar, South Carolina Trial Lawyers Association, The Association of Trial Lawyers of America, The American Civil Liberties Union, The Council on Education in Management, The New Family Court Judges’ Training, South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Education Conference, The North Carolina/South Carolina Employment Law Bar Sections, The National Advocacy Center.

  • Presenter, South Carolina Association for Justice convention, August 2018.
  • Presenter, Gretchen Carlson Leadership Initiative All In Together program, June 2018.
  • Presenter, ”Employment Law” SC Bar Law School for Non-Lawyers, October 2017.
  • Presenter, “Ethical Responsibilities of Attorneys as Employers & Supervisors” Richland County Bar Association CLE, October 2017.
  • Presenter, “Ethical Responsibilities of Lawyers in Transition” SC Bar Senior Lawyers Division CLE October 2017.
  • Presenter, “Pay Equity Issues” NC/SC Employment & Labor Law CLE, October 2017.
  • Presenter, “Attorneys as Employers and Supervisors” SC Women Lawyers Association CLE, February 2017.
  • Presenter, “Modern Family Law II, South Carolina Bar CLE, March 2017
  • Presenter, “Against The Wind: A Legal History of Civil Rights in South Carolina” SC Bar CLE, February 2017
  • Presenter, SC Bar and South Carolina Association of Ethics Counsel “Everything You Need to Know About Ethics” CLE seminar, January 2017
  • Presenter, “The U.S. Constitution and the Politics of Inclusion,”Presbyterian College, September 2015
  • Presenter, South Carolina Bar CLE seminar “The ‘Modern Family’: The Fundamentals of Representing Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender Clients,” March 14, 2014
  • “Employment Law”, Law School for Non-Lawyers sponsored by the SC Bar, October 31, 2013, pro bono teacher.
  • “LGBT Employment Rights” sponsored by the Columbia Gay and Lesbian Business Guild, July 11, 2013.
  • “Lawyers as Employers: Employment Law for Solos and Small Firms”, Solo and Small Firm Conference sponsored by the SC Bar, September 14, 2012.
  • “Employment Law for Trustees”, National Training for Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Trustees, sponsored by the United States Department of Justice, August 7, 2012.
  • “Wage Payment Issues and the Ledbetter case”, Employment and Labor Law for South Carolina Lawyers, sponsored by the SC Bar,
  • May 13, 2011. “Employment Law and Dirty Laundry”, Annual Convention of the SC Association for Justice, August 2010.