About Joanne

Savvy litigation counsel for employment matters and unique actions brought against universities

Joanne Buser is a seasoned litigator who advises employers in a variety of industries, including public and private universities. Her practice includes:

  • Employment law counseling
  • Employment litigation
  • Investigations of employee complaints
  • Higher education litigation

Joanne prides herself on providing timely, practical advice to employers concerning employee disputes of all kinds, and she works to help clients find creative solutions to common challenges and ways to leverage litigation to an employer’s advantage. Working with university clients, she brings deep knowledge of the laws and regulations governing higher education institutions and an excellent track record of defeating student lawsuits.

Experience in Action

  • Defending employers against charges of discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and wage and hour violations.
  • Litigating single plaintiff, PAGA and class action employment cases, representing employers in state and federal courts, arbitration and administrative agencies.
  • Counseling employers about their employment practices, agreements, handbooks and compliance obligations.
  • Representing universities in lawsuits and appeals brought by faculty, staff and students, including writ actions challenging disciplinary decisions and lawsuits raising First Amendment and common law claims for fraud, breach of contract, and the like.
  • Advising universities on compliance with federal and state law, policy and procedure reviews, and student conduct issues.


Litigation – Public Universities

  • Successfully obtained an anti-SLAPP dismissal and motion to dismiss a complaint filed by a former graduate student in federal court, obtaining a significant attorney’s fees award.
  • Successfully opposed an appeal of the denial of a writ petition challenging a student’s dismissal for academic misconduct.
  • Obtained defense verdict in jury trial for public university on claims of harassment and failure to prevent harassment.

Litigation – Private Universities

  • Obtained dismissal with prejudice on behalf of a private university filed by a former student in federal court based on alleged RICO Act violations, breach of contract and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among others.
  • Obtained summary judgment on a university faculty member’s claims of FEHA gender discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
  • Obtained summary judgment for a university on Title IX sexual assault claims and obtained judgment for costs on behalf of the university, which was affirmed on appeal.

PAGA and Class Action Litigation

  • Obtained two favorable PAGA settlements for a large pharmaceutical company.
  • Obtained a waiver of costs in a class action wage and hour settlement for a large biotech company.


  • Authored investigative report of a disability accommodation and harassment claim as independent counsel for city council.
  • Authored significant sexual assault investigation reports as independent counsel for employer.
  • Authored whistleblower retaliation investigation report as independent counsel for county employer.
  • Authored sexual harassment and gender discrimination investigation report as independent counsel for county employer.

Professional Recognitions

  • Named a "Rising Star" in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 Southern California Super Lawyers lists as well as the 2012 and 2013 New York Metro Super Lawyers lists. 
  • Named to the San Diego Business Journal’s Best of the Bar for 2016

Professional & Civic Activities

  • San Diego County Bar Association, Labor and Employment Law Section, chair
  • San Diego County Bar Association, Labor and Employment Law Section, member
  • State Bar of California, Labor and Employment Law Section, member
  • Dress for Success, volunteer
  • Served on the Board of Directors for Partnerships With Industry
  • Labor & Employment Law Section for the San Diego County Bar Association chair (2017)

Speaking Engagements

  • Thank You, Next: Best Hiring, Recruiting, and Background-Check Practices; Unpacking Unconscious Bias; Creating an Inclusive Workplace for LGBTQ Employees; Mental Health Accommodations: Real-Life Strategies You Can Implement For Helping Your Employees Succeed, and Avoiding Litigation; OK Boomer: Embracing Generational Differences in the Way We Work and Think; Workplace Affinity Groups: Friend or Foe? CALPELRA Annual Conference, November 2021
  • Litigation Trends and Theories Resulting from COVID-19, PPSC Annual Update, November 2021
  • New Developments in Employment Law, ACC All Day MCLE La-Law-Palooza, September 2021
  • January 29, 2020: New Developments in Labor and Employment Law
  • Watch Your Blind Side; I Am Who I Am: Creating an Inclusive Workplace for LGBTQ Employees; Thank You, Next: Best Hiring, Recruiting, And Background-Check Practices, CALPELRA Annual Conference (Webinar), November 2020
  • Getting Back to Work: Practical Advice for Employers, PPSC Webinar, May 2020
  • Top 10 Employer Questions About COVID-19, Association of Corporate Counsel, April 2020
  • An Employer’s Tool Kit for COVID-19, Association of Corporate Counsel, April 2020
  • What COVID-19 Means for HR and Employment Law in California, Ultimate Software Webinar, April 2020
  • New Developments in Labor and Employment Law, Association of Corporate Counsel, January 2020
  • Express Yourself: Creating Inclusive Workplaces for LGBTQ Employees, Accommodating Mental Health Disabilities in the Workplace, She Works Hard for the Money: What California’s Fair Pay Act Means for Public Employers, and Unconscious Bias: Preventing Race, Color, and National Origin Claims, CALPELRA Conference, November 2019
  • Making Employee Agreements Stick: Using Contract Law to Protect Your Company, Association of Corporate Counsel, September 2019
  • 2018 Labor & Employment Conference: Updates & Hot Topics, San Diego County Bar Association, April 2018
  • Performance Management: How to Get More Results with Less Effort and Top 10 Labor and Employment Mistakes, CALPELRA Conference, December 2017
  • The Culture Wars, PPSC Annual Employment Law Seminar, October 2017
  • See You Two Weeks From Never: Accommodations and the Interactive Process, Association of Corporate Counsel, May 2017
  • Moderator, Employment Arbitration: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, San Diego County Bar Association, December 2016
  • Wage and Hour Developments, PPSC Annual Employment Law Seminar, October 2016
  • Panel Speaker, Transgender Litigation, SDHR, January 2016
  • A Deep Dive Into California’s New Fair Pay Act – Key Issues, What to Expect, How to Prepare, Association of Corporate Counsel, March 2016
  • Gender and Beyond, PPSC Annual Employment Law Seminar, October 2015
  • Panel Speaker, Career Panel Discussion Regarding Hiring, Interviewing and Roles in the Law, Dress for Success, September 2015
  • Invited Instructor, Transferrable Job Skills, Dress for SuccessAugust 2015
  • Performance Management & Agreeable Exits, PPSC Annual Update Seminar, November 2014

News & Insights

  • "ADA Burden-of-Proof Answers From 9th Circ"
  • "Title IX Enforcement in the #Me Too Era"
  • "Declawing the Cat’s Paw Doctrine in Discrimination Cases"
  • "Reading Between The Lines Of San Francisco's Retail Rules"
  • 'How To Terminate Employees You're '“Just Not That Into”'
  • "Systemic Discrimination: Responding to EEOC Investigations and Litigation"
    Practical Law - The Journal


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