James D. Donathen, Phillips Lytle Partner

James D. Donathen

(716) 847-5476
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Mr. Donathen has practiced in the area of workplace law and litigation for over 30 years. He handles federal and state discrimination lawsuits and agency charges under Title VII, the ADA, the ADEA, the FMLA and the N.Y. Human Rights Law, and investigates and litigates employee disloyalty matters, including covenants not to compete, trade secrets, confidential information and theft of product. In addition to defending civil and criminal Attorney General and other investigations, Mr. Donathen also represents employers in union elections, labor arbitrations, LMRA litigation, and NLRB and PERB proceedings. He defends OSHA workplace accident and other health and safety citations, and fends off wage and hour and employee misclassification claims and lawsuits under the FLSA. Mr. Donathen handles the defense of whistleblower claims under SOX, OSHA, and other federal and state laws, and provides preventative advice, training and practical business solutions in all of these areas. Additionally, Mr. Donathen investigates sexual and other unlawful harassment claims and advises employers on investigation issues.

Mr. Donathen is a certified mediator for the U.S. District Court, Western District of New York, and has completed all required training to qualify as a mediator in New York State courts. He is available to mediate labor and employment, workplace, and business disputes and litigation. Mr. Donathen utilizes his experience in government and private practice, and as a former judicial law clerk, to assist parties in formulating creative and practical resolutions.

Mr. Donathen has been honored in The Best Lawyers in America© and selected for inclusion in Upstate New York Super Lawyers. A graduate of Notre Dame and its law school, he has been with the firm since 1990. Previously, he served as confidential law clerk to Hon. John T. Elvin, U.S.D.J. for the Western District of New York and as counsel in the NLRB’s Division of Enforcement (in both the Appellate and Contempt Sections).

Admitted to Practice

  • New York
  • U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York
  • U.S. District Court, Western District of New York
  • U.S. District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania
  • U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit

Honors & Awards

  • Listed in The Best Lawyers in America©
    • Named the Best Lawyers® Litigation – Labor and Employment “Lawyer of the Year” in Buffalo, 2013
  • Selected for the Upstate New York Super Lawyers® list, 2007-2019
  • Listed in Legal Elite of WNYBusiness First of Buffalo and Buffalo Law Journal, 2018
  • Listed in Buffalo Spree Magazine’s Best Lawyers in Western New York
  • Selected to Mediation Panel, U.S. District Court, Western District of New York


  • University of Notre Dame Law School, J.D., cum laude, 1978
  • University of Notre Dame, B.A., magna cum laude, 1975

Judicial Clerkships

  • Hon. John T. Elfvin; U.S. District Court, Western District of New York, 1978-1980

Government Experience

  • National Labor Relations Board, Division of Enforcement Litigation, 1980-1984

Professional Associations

  • American Bar Association
    • Dispute Resolution Section
    • Labor and Employment Law Section
    • Litigation Section
  • Bar Association of Erie County
    • Commercial and Bankruptcy Law Committee
    • Labor Law Committee
  • Buffalo Niagara Human Resource Association
  • The Charles S. Desmond American Inn Of Court
  • New York State Bar Association
    • Commercial and Federal Litigation Section
    • Dispute Resolution Section
    • Labor and Employment Law Section
  • Organization of Public Employer Negotiators
  • Society for Human Resource Management


  • New York State Sexual Harassment Training/Compliance Programs

Present Activities

  • United States District Court for the Western District of New York, Mediator Panel, Member
  • YMCA Buffalo Niagara, Board of Directors, Human Resources Committee, Chair
  • Resource Council of Western New York, Inc., Board of Directors
  • Calvary Episcopal Church, Endowment Committee
  • Transit Valley Country Club, Member