Willa Perlmutter, chair of Stoel Rives’ OSHA group and co-chair of the firm’s mining group, has more than 40 years of experience as a litigator, focusing for the last 25 on defending mine operators across all sectors of the industry in administrative enforcement proceedings brought by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) for alleged violations of the Mine Act. In addition, she regularly counsels clients on a broad range of issues that affect their mining operations, from personnel policies and actions to compliance with a broad range of federal statutes. Willa regularly defends companies and individuals facing investigations and formal legal proceedings for alleged safety and health violations under both the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 and the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, whether those arise out of a catastrophic event, such as an accident, or in the course of a regular inspection by MSHA or Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). She has successfully defended a number of mining companies in whistleblower cases brought under the Mine Act.

From Alaska to California and all points east—above ground and beneath—Willa is accustomed to working effectively and efficiently with in-house counsel and business representatives of mining companies at both the corporate and plant level.

Even with an affinity for litigation, Willa recognizes that clients may be best served by a direct approach to regulators and legislators. Her experience on Capitol Hill and in the federal government provides a solid foundation for seasoned advocacy. She maintains positive and constructive relationships with policymakers and operational staff at MSHA and OSHA, as well as with the administrative law judges and staff at the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.

Prior to joining Stoel Rives, Willa was an attorney-adviser for the U.S. Department of the Interior and supervising attorney in the Juneau office of Alaska Legal Services Corporation.


University of Connecticut School of Law, J.D., 1983; Member, Connecticut Moot Court

Mount Holyoke College, A.B., 1980

London School of Economics and Political Science, 1979





District of Columbia

United States District Court for the District of Columbia

United States District Court for the District of Alaska

United States District Court for the District of Connecticut

United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

United States Supreme Court



Trial and Appellate

  • As first chair, tried three civil jury trials to verdict and more than 75 bench trials to decision; of those bench trials, approximately one-fourth were in administrative enforcement proceedings brought by MSHA for alleged regulatory violations.
  • Secured a decisive victory, after trial, on behalf of the operator of an underground silver mine and a construction contractor jointly accused by MSHA of knowingly violating mining regulations in connection with an arson fire, with findings of no violation as to all charges.
  • In quasi-criminal enforcement proceedings, represented an individual manager accused of knowingly violating the Mine Act and causing the deaths of two miners working under his supervision; as a result, the individual was cleared of wrongdoing, and no criminal or civil charges were brought against him.
  • Member of the legal team that defended a mining company in a complex federal criminal investigation and related administrative enforcement proceedings stemming from two mine collapses that occurred over a 10-day period in 2007 and resulted in the deaths of nine individuals; in connection with that representation, evaluated the testimony of fact and expert witnesses and analyzed legal principles governing federal criminal prosecutions for Mine Act violations.
  • As part of a three-person team, was trial counsel in a landmark case before the tribal court of the Chilkat Indian Village that resulted in the return of culturally and historically significant artifacts that had been stolen from the village of Klukwan, Alaska; the case raised significant and novel issues of civil jurisdiction in Indian country and was the first case ever referred to tribal court by a federal court of appeals.
  • Had sole or primary responsibility for briefing and argument in appellate proceedings before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and the highest courts of Alaska, Connecticut, and Louisiana.


  • Managed client responses and participated in government investigations, in more than 30 separate cases involving 15 different companies over a 25-year period, into claims that the companies had unlawfully retaliated against whistleblowers who exercised rights protected by federal law; of those, MSHA determined in approximately three-quarters of the cases that no unlawful activity had taken place; in approximately 10 cases, defended the client companies in bench trials brought either by the U.S. Department of Labor or by the individual complainant alleging unlawful retaliation.
  • Led client teams participating in and responding to U.S. Department of Labor investigations into numerous fatal accidents that occurred at mines and other industrial sites.
  • Directed and conducted an internal investigation into allegations that management at an underground coal mine had failed to manage water properly, resulting in a flooded escapeway that jeopardized the safety of miners; as a result of the investigation, the mine’s general manager and underground superintendent were terminated and new management put in place to implement better procedures and improve accountability.
  • Managed an internal investigation to determine why automatic airlock doors essential to proper mine ventilation persistently failed to function as designed and whether management had taken appropriate steps to address the problem and safeguard mine personnel; as a result of the investigation, the mining company redefined lines of responsibility for mine maintenance and brought in additional maintenance staff with specialized expertise to ensure the continued operation of the doors.

Counseling and Public Policy

  • Regularly provide advice on statutory and regulatory compliance to clients in a wide range of mining and other industrial contexts, including counseling publicly held companies and their mining subsidiaries on reporting obligations in connection with the industry-specific requirements of the Dodd-Frank Act.
  • Through relationships developed with officials at MSHA, OSHA and NIOSH advocate on behalf of clients seeking agency action or forbearance without resorting to litigation; regularly meet with government representatives on a variety of public policy initiatives affecting mining and industrial clients.
  • Conduct training seminars for mine operators and others on relevant topics, including anticipating and reducing civil and criminal liability by responding appropriately to inspections, investigations, and catastrophic events; responding to whistleblower complaints; and criminal proceedings under the Mine Act, among others.

Complex Litigation

  • In a matter involving complex factual and regulatory issues, shouldered primary responsibility for providing comprehensive assistance to the lead attorney in obtaining, reviewing, and producing client documents to the U.S. Department of Justice in response to allegations that a corporate client had fraudulently calculated and improperly underpaid royalties arising out of oil and gas leases on federal lands; our representation led to the U.S. government’s first settlement with a major oil company in lieu of qui tam litigation to recover unpaid royalties.
  • While at the U.S. Department of the Interior, participated in a historic negotiated rulemaking with representatives of tribal governments and various federal agencies to implement the Indian Self-Determination Act, which authorized the Secretaries of the Interior and Health and Human Services to enter into government-to-government contracts with federally recognized Indian tribes for management of tribal programs; although initially extremely contentious, the rulemaking was accomplished within the deadline established by Congress and resulted in a consensus rule agreed to by all parties; represented the Office of Indian Self-Determination in government contract disputes with tribes, including litigation over allocation of contract support funds.

Government Experience

  • U.S. Department of the Interior - Attorney-Advisor, Office of the Solicitor, Division of Indian Affairs, 1995-1997


Insights & Presentations

  • Willa regularly conducts training seminars for mine operators and others, in which she focuses on how to anticipate and reduce civil and criminal liability cases by responding appropriately to inspections, investigations, and catastrophic events.
  • “When life hands you an imminent danger order, pay attention,” North American Mining, November 30, 2023
  • “It’s here! It’s finally here! MSHA’s proposed rule on silica exposure,” North American Mining, September 14, 2023
  • “Wait…What? A Potentially Dangerous Development in § 105(c) Retaliation Cases,” North American Mining, June 16, 2023
  • “The more things change, the more they remain the same…maybe,” North American Mining, May 8, 2023
  • “We have to know what we’re doing, because they don’t always get it,” North American Mining, March 13, 2023
  • “Lessons learned after a mine accident,” North American Mining, December 6, 2022
  • “The Sixth Circuit and Advance Notice—The Cavalry Never Showed Up After All,” North American Mining, August 19, 2022
  • “A Sword and a Shield: Workplace Examinations Under the New § 56/57.18002,” North American Mining, April 21, 2022
  • Presenter, “MSHA’s Pending New Rule on Haulage Safety,” CALCIMA Spring Thaw 2022, March 16, 2022
  • “MSHA’s Proposed Mobile Haulage Rule—Let’s Look Under This Baby’s Hood,” North American Mining, February 18, 2022
  • “What Is Advance Notice? Much-Needed Clarification Is On Its Way,” North American Mining, June 11, 2021
  • Presenter, “OSHA Workplace Safety: Understanding and Mitigating Risk,” SHRM/Stoel Rives 19th Annual Labor and Employment Law Conference, March 3, 2021
  • “Managing the COVID-Era Workplace Part 2: OSHA Guidance Update and Analysis,” Stoel Rives LLP webinar, June 25, 2020
  • Quoted, “Mine Safety Panel Limits Judge’s Settlement Discretion,” Bloomberg BNA’s Occupational Safety & Health Reportersm, October 3, 2019
  • Quoted, “Mine Safety Settlements Will Get Scrutiny From Review Panel,” Bloomberg BNA’s Occupational Safety & Health Reportersm, May 21, 2019
  • “Mining and Mineral Extraction” (co-author), Chapter 18, The Year in Review, ABA Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources, 2019
  • Presenter, “Defying Gravity: A Mine Operator’s Guide to Defeating S&S,” Industrial Minerals Association Spring Technology Workshop, March 26, 2019
  • Presenter, “Training Strategies:Interactive ways to reinforce safety,” “Supervisor Responsibilities: Review of supervisor responsibilities,” CALCIMA Spring Thaw 2019, March 20, 2019
  • Quoted, “Coal, Mining Companies Face Uncertainty With Safety Panel’s Halt,” Bloomberg BNA’s Occupational Safety & Health Reportersm, October 5, 2018
  • Presenter, “OSHA/MSHA Inspections & Citations—How to prepare for and defend against!” UMA 7th Annual Mining & Manufacturing Safety Conference, April 11, 2018
  • Presenter, “Small Mine Permitting and Compliance Monitoring,” AMA 2018 Fairbanks 26th Biennial Convention: Prospecting Alaska’s Future, March 26–27, 2018
  • Presenter, “Use of Privilege,” EMLF Mine Safety & Health Special Institute, March 21, 2018
  • Presenter, “Strategies for Handling the MSHA Inspector that Comes to Call,” OCAPA Winter Workshop, December 7, 2017
  • Presenter, “2017 MSHA and OSHA Update,” IMA-NA Annual Meeting, September 27, 2017
  • Presenter, “From This Moment On” (regarding MSHA violations), IMA-NA Spring Technology Workshop, April 2017
  • “Managing Cybersecurity: What the Mining Industry Should Know and Do” (co-author), The Conveyor, Winter 2016
  • “Representing Mine Operators Under the Alternative Case Resolution Initiative,” three-day training program for mine safety professionals, 2001 to present 
  • “OSHA Requests Stakeholder Input on Revamping Rules Governing Workplace Exposure to Chemicals,” Environment, Energy & Resources Law Alert, October 2014
  • “Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission Holds that Mine Operators Can Be Cited for Violations Discovered During Pre-Op Examinations,” Environment, Energy & Resources Law Alert, May 2014
  • Presenter, “Dealing with Discrimination Cases: Mechanics and Strategies,” North Carolina Mine Safety and Health Conference, April 2014
  • Presenter, “Legal Developments in Mine Safety, or The More Things Change, The More They Remain The Same,” Pennsylvania Aggregates & Concrete Association, February 2014
  • “Recent Developments in Whistleblower Retaliation Cases Under the Mine Act,” Environment, Energy & Resources Law Alert, Winter 2014


  • District of Columbia’s Pro Bono Honor Roll
  • Steering Committee, Federal Agency and Congressional Practice Section of the Alaska Bar Association
  • “Associate Member of the Year,” California Construction and Industrial Minerals Association (CalCIMA), 2018



  • Safety and Health Committee, CalCIMA
Jump to Page