Employment: Penni Pearson Bradshaw Kilpatrick Stockton LLP, Winston-Salem

By Irwin Speizer

Penni Pearson Bradshaw was a mother’s dream. At Westchester High School in Philadelphia, she was an A-plus student, a tennis star, a member of student government and a writer for the student newspaper. To avoid the distractions of a coed campus, she picked Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Va., where she graduated magna cum laude with a double major in religion and American studies.

She still maintains that image, but it masks a hard edge. She is one of the state’s most effective advocates for companies facing employment-law issues. “She is about 5 feet tall, but she is tenacious,” says Frank Murphy, vice president and general counsel of Winston-Salem-based Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, one of her clients.

Bradshaw says that she has never had a “significant adverse jury verdict” and that she gets many cases dismissed before trial. Her time now is spent advising companies trying to establish human-resources systems. But once a dispute turns into a lawsuit, her litigation style comes into play. “My approach in a deposition is be nice and low-key. Let them talk,” she says. “People let down their guard that way. You can catch them in a lie, in inconsistencies. It’s fun. You know you’ve got ’em.”

Growing up, Bradshaw never gave law much thought. Her father was an insurance executive, and he moved the family several times. At Randolph-Macon, her writing and leadership skills got her named editor of the school newspaper, but by her senior year, she still hadn’t decided what she would be. An aptitude test showed she was suited for law. Her college grades and law-school entrance-exam scores were so good that Carolina offered her a free ride.

Employment-law courses were her favorite, but it took a few years for her to practice in that field. She joined Petree Stockton, a Winston-Salem firm that would merge with an Atlanta firm to become Kilpatrick Stockton, and handled real-estate closings, auto-insurance claims and an occasional employment case.

In her first year, Bradshaw represented Salisbury, which had been sued by property owners fighting annexation. She won the first round, and the appeal went straight to the N.C. Supreme Court. Bradshaw crafted a tight legal brief with a point-by-point defense of the city’s right to annex. “My concept was to keep it simple, keep the court focused on what the requirements were under the statutes, point out that the issues raised by the other side were attempts to make things confusing,” she says. Salisbury won.

By her fifth year, she was focused solely on employment law. Her firm represented large North Carolina companies, and Bradshaw became their employment-law counselor. She divided her time between defending against employee lawsuits over such things as discrimination and advising human-resources departments how to avoid problems. She noticed that companies often ran into immigration issues when hiring technical or engineering experts, so she developed a subspecialty: immigration law.

Bradshaw is active in local civic organizations, though she became sidetracked by a family emergency. Her daughter was diagnosed with a fatal heart defect and was put on a transplant waiting list. Three years ago, at age 11, she died.

Now, every Saturday morning, Bradshaw plays hostess for three hours in the Ronald McDonald Room at Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem. “I really now know how not to sweat the small stuff,” she says.