Malissa Burnette | Women Vision SC

Co-founder, Burnette Shutt & McDaniel, PA

Malissa Burnette is an award-winning attorney and advocate for equal rights for all. She is co-founder of the Burnette Shutt & McDaniel law firm in Columbia.  She waged a legal battle to change the rules and allow women to attend The Citadel. She successfully challenged a rule that barred young girls from playing football. 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.  Since 1993, she has been a South Carolina Supreme Court certified specialist in labor and employment law.  Burnette learned about equality early on from her grandfather, as a child growing up in a small town in North Carolina.  “We’d go to poor black families homes, and he would take clothing and so forth.  Not everybody would do that in the 1950s.  He treated everyone like family, and he was generous and kind to everyone,” she said.  Burnette has served in a number of appointed positions, including the Governor’s Domestic Violence Task Force. She was former Lt. Governor Nancy Stevenson’s chief of staff. 

About the Honoree

M. Malissa Burnette is a partner in the Burnette Shutt & McDaniel law firm in Columbia. She graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1971 and the USC School of Law in 1977. She was admitted to the South Carolina Bar in 1977, the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina in 1978, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in 1978, and the United States Supreme Court in 1998. Ms. Burnette is a member of the Richland County Bar Association, the South Carolina Association for Justice, and the Federal Bar Association.

Ms. Burnette has been a Certified Specialist in Employment and Labor Law since 1993. She practices in the state and federal courts, primarily representing individuals in complex employment cases involving discrimination, civil and constitutional rights, breach of contract, restrictive covenants, employment-related torts, wage payment claims, and academic tenure and promotion matters. She also represents small businesses and non-profit organizations, and practices family law. Ms. Burnette is a Certified Federal Court Mediator and an arbitrator.

Ms. Burnette is the co-author and -editor of all five editions of Labor and Employment Law for South Carolina Lawyers, published by the South Carolina Bar in 1999, 2004, 2007, 2011 and 2019. She contributed the chapter “Convergence of Employment Laws and the Workers’ Compensation Act” to The Law of Workers’ Compensation Insurance in South Carolina, Seventh Edition (SC Bar 2019).

The USC School of Law presented Ms. Burnette its Compleat Lawyer Platinum Award in 2019 in recognition of her outstanding civic and professional accomplishments. Ms. Burnette was honored in 2018 during WREN’s celebration of International Women’s Day as one of South Carolina’s trailblazers for women’s rights. In December 2017, The Columbia Urban League presented Ms. Burnette the Stephen G. Morrison Social Justice Award for her work in advancing the legal equality of women. In 2016, Ms. Burnette received the SC Women Lawyers Association’s top honor, the Jean Galloway Bissell award. Ms. Burnette has been recognized by her peers for excellence in the fields of employment law, civil rights law, and alternative dispute resolution by being named one of The Best Lawyers in America, 2005-2020. She has been recognized in South Carolina Super Lawyers in the category of Plaintiff’s Employment Litigation, 2008-2019, with the publication featuring her career as its cover story, entitled “Undaunted”, in its 2015 edition. In 2011, the SC Bar’s Employment and Labor Law Section tapped Ms. Burnette to receive the organization’s first Distinguished Lawyer Award. She has served as President of the S.C. Women Lawyers Association (2001), Chair of the S.C. Bar’s Judicial Qualifications Committee (1999-2000 and 2000-2001), Chair of the S.C. Association for Justice’s Employment Law Section (1990-1995 and 2001-2004), President of the Senior Lawyers Division of the SC Bar (2015-2016), and is appointed by the SC Supreme Court Commission on CLE and Specialization as a member of the Employment and Labor Law Specialization Advisory Committee (2020-2022). Ms. Burnette has presented over 80 continuing legal education programs, and is a contributor to numerous publications, including annual updates to the South Carolina section of “Anti-Discrimination Laws” a national Practical Law/Thomson Reuters publication. She also annually updates the Employment Law Book for the SC Bar’s Pro Bono Law School for Non-Lawyers program, and often teaches the course.

Ms. Burnette serves in the Mentor Program for 1-L students at the USC School of Law, and is a frequent guest speaker at the law school as well as other schools, including Presbyterian College where she has been the keynote speaker for Constitution Day. In 2018, Ms. Burnette was invited twice by the Nickelodeon Theater to lead audience discussions following film screenings. The first was an in-depth look at the civil rights messages in the film To Kill a Mockingbird, along with the Hon. James E. Lockemy. The second was a discussion with the filmmaker, Irene Lusztig, of the progress of women’s rights since the 1970’s in connection with the screening of Yours in Sisterhood.

Lt. Gov. Nancy Stevenson, the first woman elected to statewide office in South Carolina, selected Ms. Burnette to serve as her Chief of Staff, 1978 – June 1982. Ms. Burnette managed Travis Medlock’s campaign for Attorney General in the 1982 general election, then established her first private law practice. Ms. Burnette has continued in private practice since 1982.

Ms. Burnette has been involved in several ground-breaking cases, including Mellette v. Jones, which opened the doors of The Citadel to female students, and Tara Bailey v. SC High School League, which allowed girls in South Carolina public schools to play contact sports. In 2014, she represented Police Chief Crystal Moore of Latta, SC, and achieved her reinstatement. Chief Moore had been fired by the mayor, who was caught on tape in a homophobic tirade. In 2014, Ms. Burnette was one of the lead attorneys in Condon and Bleckley v. SC Attorney General Alan Wilson, South Carolina’s marriage equality lawsuit that was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in June 2015. She currently is representing Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and an individual plaintiff in the lawsuit that has succeeded in obtaining a Preliminary Injunction and TRO against the governor’s Executive Order requiring the SC Department of Health and Human Services to withhold funds for family planning and STD prevention from Planned Parenthood.

The University of South Carolina featured Ms. Burnette’s life and career in its 2013 “No Limits” series for Caroliniana Magazine to encourage USC graduates to “step in and speak up” as advocates against discrimination and unfairness. In 2015, The Columbia Free Times named Ms. Burnette one of “Fifty People Who Get Things Done in the Capital City.” In January 2016, Columbia Business Monthly listed her among “50 Most Influential People.” Her account of a disturbing encounter with the KKK as a teenager was aired by SC Public Radio in November 2016 as part of the StoryCorps project.

Ms. Burnette has long been active in community and national organizations, including service on the Board of SC Equality, and volunteer work with Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, WREN, and Planned Parenthood. She is a founding member of Emerge, which trains women to run for public office. She is called upon to testify before legislative committees, including in 2018 regarding the SC Pregnancy Accommodations Act. The Act, which amends the SC Human Affairs Law, passed, and requires employers to grant reasonable accommodations to assist women in continuing to work during their pregnancies. Ms. Burnette also is considered by some news media to be knowledgeable in the field of employment and civil rights matters. She has been called upon to comment on legal matters, such as the Odom v. Columbia Police Department case, Lawyers Weekly, July 26, 2017.

Ms. Burnette is married to Michael G. LeFever, who recently retired as President and CEO of the SC Independent College and Universities, and then as Interim Executive Director of the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education. Their daughter, Grant Burnette LeFever, is a 2018 graduate of the USC School of Law and is an Associate Attorney at Burnette Shutt & McDaniel, PA.

About Women Vision SC

Women Vision SC is a program that focuses on issues affecting women throughout the state and the nation and a new generation of young people pursuing public service for their communities and the state at large. The program is produced and hosted by former SCETV president Linda O’Bryon.