About Our Firm

Our Firm

Kienbaum Opperwall Hardy & Pelton has been designated in Chambers USA’s Client Guide to America’s Leading Business Lawyers as the top employment and labor law firm in Michigan. Among our firm’s members are several of the region’s most recognized and successful employment and labor attorneys. A number of our lawyers have been selected by their peers to be listed among the “Best Lawyers in America” and inducted as Fellows of the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers. Our lawyers are frequent lecturers for the prestigious National Employment Law Institute and other business education programs.

The firm was formed in May 1997 by Thomas G. Kienbaum, Theodore R. Opperwall, Elizabeth Hardy, and Eric J. Pelton. All were previously partners at a major Detroit law firm, where Mr. Kienbaum headed the labor and employment law department. In January 2010, William B. Forrest III, became the fifth member of the firm. The firm is based in downtown Birmingham, Michigan.

An increasingly complex employment and labor environment demands prompt, practical legal counseling. Kienbaum Opperwall Hardy & Pelton specializes in guiding employers through the challenges of the contemporary workplace. From wrongful discharge claims to traditional union-management matters to preventive advice, our attorneys are all skilled in representing management’s interests and perspectives. Our firm draws on its attorneys’ individual talents and wide-ranging experiences in the employment and labor field to deliver large-firm effectiveness at small-firm cost. In addition to competitive hourly rates, our firm derives other efficiencies – which are passed on to our clients – from our specialized boutique practice.

Our practice spans all aspects of employment and labor law. We provide proactive services — counseling employers on avoiding wrongful discharge claims, employment discrimination suits, and all of the potential employee claims that can arise under a myriad of federal and state statutes. Through our in-house seminars and workshops, we educate management so that sensitive situations can be prevented or properly handled. We conduct on-site investigations of troublesome workplace problems and advise employers on how to deal successfully with the results. But when it becomes necessary, our litigators provide a vigorous defense, based on years of experience before federal and state courts and administrative tribunals.

Our firm’s distinctive boutique practice style and philosophy offer our clients a highly focused, proactive, strategic, and resource-conscious approach to avoiding if possible, confronting when necessary, and efficiently resolving the many complex workplace issues facing American employers today. A sizable segment of our practice consists of complex multi-state litigation including class actions. We represent many clients on a regional or national basis. All of our firm’s members have devoted their careers to this specialized field, and do not have to “reinvent the wheel” with each new representation.


Employment Litigation

When lawsuits do arise, Kienbaum Opperwall Hardy & Pelton’s experienced trial attorneys defend management clients against the full spectrum of employment-related claims: wrongful discharge, discrimination, harassment, wage and hour, and employee benefits, as well as workplace tort claims that are sometimes joined with these causes of action, including defamation, violation of public policy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence. We regularly represent employers in proceedings before administrative agencies, such as the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Department of Labor, and equivalent state agencies, as well as in state and federal courts.

Being involved in a lawsuit does not have to include the expense and stress of a full-blown trial. Kienbaum Opperwall Hardy & Pelton has pursued intensive investigation and discovery techniques, pretrial motions, and negotiation with plaintiffs’ attorneys to narrow the issues and obtain dismissals or favorable settlements. In addition to being aggressive and experienced trial lawyers, our attorneys are well-versed in alternative dispute resolution techniques, including mediation, facilitation, and arbitration.

The firm’s experience extends beyond trial work to the realm of state and federal appellate courts, where decisions directly influence the evolution of employment and labor law. Our attorneys have handled many significant employment and labor cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, various U.S. Courts of Appeals, the Michigan Supreme Court, the Michigan Court of Appeals, and the appellate courts of other states.

Labor Matters

Traditional Labor Matters

Union issues are an ever-present concern for employers, large and small, whether or not their employees are already unionized. While U.S. Supreme Court rulings from the 1980s gave workers greater freedom to abstain from union membership, and the percentage of unionized workers has continued to decline, the possibility of unionization and unions themselves continue to exert power in the workplace. Kienbaum Opperwall Hardy & Pelton counsels its management clients on issues of union organization, collective bargaining, arbitration, and contract administration.


Our attorneys have many years of experience in all types of National Labor Relations Board matters, including representation elections, unfair labor practice proceedings, strikes, picketing, secondary boycotts, unit clarification proceedings, and decertification and deauthorization elections. In addition, our attorneys have, through appropriate measures, helped employers maintain their non-union status with preventive counseling, as well as during campaigns opposing union organizing drives.


Preventive Employment Counseling

Employers face a bewildering array of employment statutes, governmental regulations, and court interpretations. Today’s fluid business environment, including the rising use of contract workers and joint employment arrangements, further complicates an employer’s role. Some recent court decisions – for example, those dealing with sexual harassment – hold employers to broader, less well-defined standards of responsibility for the actions of managers and lower-level employees. In addition, courts in many jurisdictions have been addressing an employer’s ability to require arbitration of work-related disputes, instead of going to court. While recent developments on this issue in Michigan are good for employers, other state and federal courts still struggle with this question.

Government oversight further complicates the picture. For example, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), with its “get-tough” stance on enforcing affirmative action programs, has many employers at a loss as to how to meet that agency’s stringent and often impractical standards. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are complex regulatory regimes that frequently mire employers in indecision or litigation.

NDMHelping our clients avoid litigation, and advising them on the mandates of state and federal law, is a major part of our practice. We counsel employers on compliance with equal employment opportunity laws, such as Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), as well as comparable state statutes. We also advise our clients on other employee protection laws, including the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), Executive Order 11246 (administered by the OFCCP), and various wage and fringe benefit statutes.

Properly crafted employment policies and related documents can help employers avoid needless misunderstandings and possible litigation with their employees. We prepare and update personnel policies, employee handbooks, employment contracts, trade secret agreements, and covenants not to compete. The firm’s preventive approach includes training supervisors in such areas as affirmative action, union issues, sexual harassment, disability-related concerns, substance abuse, and family or medical leave.

We also advise clients on effectively handling work force reductions, employee discipline and terminations, retaliation suits, and, increasingly, whistleblower claims. These kinds of business-altering events, difficult in themselves, can give rise to added complications, such as defamation suits against the employer, if not properly handled.

In addition, our firm conducts investigations into sensitive workplace problems, such as allegations of sexual or racial harassment, employee fraud, or defamation issues. Our firm is uniquely qualified to advise and assist management in these difficult areas. We will also anticipate and address the complex employee privacy issues involved in workplace investigations.


Representative Clients

  • American Axle & Manufacturing, Inc.
  • Federal-Mogul Corporation
  • Automobile Club of Michigan
  • Ford Motor Company
  • Beaumont Health System
  • Great Lakes Home Health and Hospice
  • Belle Tire Distributors, Inc.
  • Hurley Medical Center
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Inc.
  • Kinder Morgan
  • College for Creative Studies
  • Mercedes Benz Financial Services
  • Comau, Inc.
  • MotorCity Casino Hotel
  • Comcast Corporation
  • Scripps Company
  • Crain Communications
  • Sodexo USA
  • DaVita Inc.
  • State of Michigan
  • Daimler Trucks North America
  • UBS Financial Services
  • Deloitte & Touche
  • Verizon Wireless
  • Detroit Tigers, Inc.
  • Wayne State University
  • Eaton Corporation


The outcomes we achieve for our clients speak for themselves. Here is a sampling from the past several years:

  • We have obtained jury verdicts in favor of our management clients in a number of high-profile employment cases, ranging from discrimination, harassment, and whistleblower claims to defamation and malicious prosecution suits. At times the losing plaintiffs have been ordered to reimburse our clients for their costs and attorney fees.
  • In high-exposure sexual harassment claims and lawsuits, we have assisted many clients in achieving satisfactory internal resolutions, and defended others in litigation where it was strategically appropriate or otherwise necessary.
  • We defended a major manufacturing company against the largest class-based claim ever brought by the OFCCP, and achieved a favorable multi-plant resolution for a fraction of the OFCCP’s original demand.
  • We have helped our clients protect their competitive interests by drafting and judicially enforcing covenants not to compete and trade secret agreements. We have obtained injunctions against a number of offending former employees.
  • In several Michigan Supreme Court cases, we won summary dismissals for clients defending age, sex, and race discrimination claims brought by terminated or non-promoted employees. These cases have clarified key legal principles in ways that are favorable for Michigan employers.
  • In the rapidly evolving field of disability law, we obtained appellate rulings in favor of our clients which significantly affect (and limit) disability discrimination claims against employers. The appellate courts in these cases adopted our arguments that:
    • A disturbed employee who threatens to harm a superior or co-worker is not protected by the disability discrimination laws even though the threat was caused by or was a manifestation of a disability (e.g., mental illness).
    • The temporary cosmetic disfigurement of an employee, who was allegedly assigned for appearance reasons to a non-serving position at a fast-food restaurant, does not constitute a protected disability.
    • An employer is not obligated to give an ill, injured, or incapacitated employee, who is on an extended absence from work, a “reasonable time to heal” under the Michigan disability discrimination law.
  • We have achieved favorable outcomes for clients in a variety of class actions and group lawsuits brought under ERISA, Title VII, the FLSA, and other employment laws. In a number of cases, we defeated the plaintiffs’ efforts to have a class certified, resulting in the advantageous resolution of individual claims.
  • As the economy has faltered in recent years, we have represented corporations defending class action suits involving retiree medical insurance.
  • In the traditional labor relations area, we have worked closely with large and small clients in connection with sensitive labor negotiations and plant closing or relocation situations, as well as representing those clients’ interests in ancillary arbitration, NLRB, and court proceedings.