Donna Roberta Paulsen is an executive assistant at Pearson Specter Litt, currently working for Harvey Specter. Having worked for him for 12 years, she briefly left him to work for Louis Litt; however, Louis fired her so that she could go back to work for Harvey.
Donna is one of the most formidable minds at Pearson Specter Litt. Extremely perceptive, armed with the knowledge of all the comings and goings at the firm and a razor sharp wit, Donna is admired and feared by both associates and partners alike, and she's not afraid to wield that power when it suits her needs.
Having been with Harvey since his days in the D.A.'s office, Donna keeps the fine machinery of his life well oiled and is privy to all his secrets - including the truth about Mike. But even though she likes to keep the young associate on his toes, Donna is a trusted ally who Mike can turn to when the going truly gets rough. And at a firm like Pearson Specter Litt, that happens a lot.
Donna, early in the series, is established as a sharp-witted woman, often holding her own against Harvey and dissing Louis when he advances on her. She is first seen helping Harvey with the associate recruitment. When Mike Ross barged in through the door while trying to dodge the police, she thought that he was the late applicant and let him in.
Donna has been portrayed as Harvey's trusted secretary, but more is shown about their relationship and also about herself when Harvey gets tangled with D.A. Cameron Dennis' scandal. She gives Jessica Pearson a very important piece of evidence that will help Harvey prove his innocence about Dennis' evidence burying. When asked why, Donna says that she can't let Harvey take the fall for Dennis. When Harvey learns of this, he is very upset with Donna but later apologizes to her.
When the firm is sued and Harvey is being threatened by Travis Tanner with disbarment, Harvey orders Donna to go get a file that Tanner claims Harvey buried. Harvey claims that he didn't receive the file and Donna tells him that if he didn't receive it then that means that nothing came by her desk. Albeit, Donna finds the file with her timestamp on it and begins to panic. Mike catches her about to shred the file and asks her to tell Harvey the truth or otherwise he will. Later on, in the women's washroom, Harvey, after almost committing perjury, confronts Donna about the file. He was almost glad to hear that she got the file but was devastated when he learned that Donna had destroyed it. After having a huge argument, Jessica learns the truth and tells Harvey that Donna has to go and she fires her. As she leaves the building, Harvey pushes the elevator button for her and watches her leave.
When a mock trial is situated in the Pearson-Hardman when Harvey goes to trial, Mike convinces Donna to come back and testify. When she shows up, Louis Litt pressures her, causing Harvey to jump in.
At the end of Rewind, Harvey tells Jessica that he will be getting Donna back.
Donna, after being rehired by Pearson Darby, engages in a relationship with British lawyer Stephen Huntley, and after releasing the news of her intimacy with Stephen to Harvey, is initially greeted with an approving response from Harvey. However as the season progresses, we see Harvey's disapproval for Donna's relationship with Stephen, perhaps an implication of Harvey's feelings and past relations with Donna.
Donna, after realizing Stephen's involvement in the Ava Hessington murder case shamefully apologizes to Harvey admitting she was unaware of who Stephen really was and the fact that she had been with a murderer.
Donna was charged from the District Attorney's office, by Terrance Wolf for illegally obtaining maintenance records from the Liberty Rail file room by impersonating an NTSB agent, a serious felony which can result in jail time. This not only nullified the win, but also put Donna in great danger. Eventually the charge was reduced to Intent, after Harvey explained to Wolf that since they will not disclose the documents (which would put them in danger) , no proof of damage exists. Eventually after getting more evidence from Joe Henderson, Harvey was able to force Evan Smith to drop the charges against Donna. The final words in the episode were Harvey telling Donna that he loves her.
Donna goes on and decided to work for Louis Litt, then went back to working for Harvey after Louis fired her.
Donna is an excellent networker and is "tied-in" to the gossip and under-belly happenings of Pearson Hardman. Her network is extensive and runs through most of New York City (and possibly further). There is very little that Donna does not know, and her ability to unearth secrets is uncanny. As a result, Donna is regarded somewhat warily by associates and partners alike. However, she is an excellent confidante and a great people person, which allows her to maintain relationships with people that Harvey cannot. She is social, fun, witty, and charming, and people enjoy interacting with her.
Harvey is Donna's longtime boss and close friend, and she is the right-hand woman to his general. Both trust each other implicitly. They first met at the District Attorney's office, where Harvey was Assistant District Attorney (ADA) and she was his secretary; they have been a team ever since. After working for two years at the DA's office, Harvey took Donna with him to Pearson Hardman.
The two are extremely close. Harvey loves her and trusts her absolutely. He relies upon her and views her as essential to his being. As he told Jessica in "All In," Donna is irreplaceable. Donna, in turn, adores Harvey and is incredibly loyal to him, to the point where she would take a bullet for him. Both tend to view each other as two halves to the same whole, and Donna has put Harvey above all other relationships more than once. They take great pleasure in each other's company and enjoy their jokes and verbal sparring. (They have a pre-trial ritual involving a can opener and thumbtacks.) Over the years, they have developed an ease of comfort found only between best friends, and are very good at reading the other. No one knows Harvey better than Donna, and although Harvey generally tends to keep his feelings close to the chest, he is more open and vulnerable with her than he is with anyone else. She is privy to most of the details of his private life--she knows about Harvey's mother and brother, and is fond of Harvey's father. (She is also the one who informed Harvey of his father's death.) Donna is also one of the few people whose opinion Harvey values, and he listens carefully to anything she tells him, even if he does not always acknowledge it at the time. When upset, Harvey sometimes falls back upon establishing the boss-employee boundary--a boundary Donna is smart enough to know when to ignore, recognizing it for the emotionally distancing tactic that it is. She is likely the only person capable of keeping his reckless tendencies in check. Harvey, meanwhile, is equally good at reading Donna, and although Harvey is not essential for the mechanics of Donna's life, she relies heavily upon his unswerving loyalty, devotion, and emotional support. Despite being protective of his privacy, Harvey has let Donna's parents stay at his condo before (after she cried fake tears--a fact he only finds out later), and Donna has the spare key to his condo.
Donna is a gold mine of information for Harvey and listens in to all his conversations in his office (something Harvey does not discourage, since he leaves his intercom on for her). She is excellent at anticipating his needs, and takes great pride in being able to provide Harvey with what he needs without him asking for it. She views her job as to protect and take care of him, and will go to any lengths to do so. This was first proven in "Rules of the Game", where she gives Jessica incriminating evidence against Cameron Dennis after Dennis threatens Harvey, and again in "Break Point", when she shreds an incriminating memo that she fears will implicate him in a lawsuit.
The events in "Break Point" emotionally strain and confuse their relationship. Travis Tanner resurrects an old lawsuit against Harvey, accusing him of burying evidence and committing fraud. Harvey denies the accusations, stating that he never received the memorandum supposedly in his possession. Donna, however, finds the document in the file room with her date stamp on it. Afraid of the implications against Harvey and seeking to protect him, she hides the truth from him. Harvey nearly commits perjury as a result, and it is only Mike's quick actions that prevent him from doing so. After Mike informs Harvey that Donna found the document, Harvey storms into the ladies' room to confront her. A bitter argument ensues, during which Donna accuses Harvey of keeping things from her and she tells him that she shredded the memo. Feeling furious and betrayed, Harvey tells Donna: "I'm not going to fire you, Donna--I might KILL you--but I'm not going to fire you."
This makes their relationship extremely tense. Both Harvey and Donna are used to being perfectly in sync with each other, and for the first time in a long time, they are out of step. It frightens and confuses Donna that she could have misread the situation (and Harvey) so badly. Harvey, on the other hand, is swamped by his feelings of fury, hurt, and betrayal, and can see little else. He is hurt and upset that she did not trust him enough to come to him with her problems, and a part of him is frightened that she would go to such lengths to protect him. He is afraid that this is something he cannot fix. These are two people who typically know what to do in any situation, and for the first time, both are at a loss. These feelings are further compounded when Jessica fires Donna--Donna feels hurt and betrayed that Harvey didn't fight for her the same way he fought for Mike, while Harvey is uncertain as to how to fight for Donna. His own personal credo of "tough, but fair" creates a conflict within him: on the one hand, he loves Donna and views her as essential to his being; on the other hand, her actions make her termination more than justified. Harvey is at a loss as to what to do, and he is lost without Donna.
While Donna manages to go on with her now Harvey-free life in "All In" and "Sucker Punch", Harvey is incapable of moving on without her. His grief over her departure is so strong that he becomes incredibly reckless, and no one can hold him in check--not even Mike or Jessica. It is only at the end of the episode "Rewind" that Harvey informs Jessica in no uncertain terms that he's bringing Donna back, and it is only in "Asterisk" that the rift between Donna and Harvey is finally mended.
While it is implied late in the first season and throughout the second season that Donna's feelings for Harvey may not be platonic, she informs him in "Asterisk" that she "loves him like a brother or a cousin" and that she is not in love with him. It is unclear if we can take Donna at her word, however, since she is also an excellent actress and has fooled Harvey before.
During the episode "The Other Time" which is referenced in "Asterisk" it becomes clear during flashbacks that Harvey once tried to pursue Donna, but due to her policy of not mixing work with pleasure, she resisted his advances. However when both Donna and Harvey quit the DA's office Harvey visits Donna and she was already waiting for him with a can of whipped cream. Harvey steps into her apartment and she closes the door and he leaned over to kiss her. Although it's not seen, producer Aaron Korsh confimed in an interview that they slept together during this flashback. Afterwards when Harvey gets a new job at then Pearson Hardman, and he asks Donna to work with him to which she agrees on two conditions: a large signing bonus and never to speak of them sleeping together again. The episode also shows where their loose banter and can opener ritual originate from.
At the end of Season 4, after working for nearly 13 years together, Donna quits being Harvey's assistant and is now working for Louis. She decided this because her relationship with Harvey is not working for her. Louis also said to her in a conversation that Harvey is unaware how lucky he is to have Donna. Also Norma, Louis's own assistant, passed away. Before leaving she tells Harvey that she loves him.
After Mike Ross is arrested in the middle of season 5, Louis fires Donna so that she could become Harvey's secretary again and help him help Mike. The relationship between Donna and Harvey is so important that it has its own article, in addition to this section.
Donna first mistook Mike Ross for Rick Sorkin during the associate interviews Harvey was conducting, and appreciated the witty response he gave her.
Donna has a soft spot for Mike, and often treats him like a little brother. She enjoys teasing him and trading witty banter, but she's also good for a serious conversation when he needs it and occasionally gives him relationship advice. Although Mike is usually on the same page as Harvey in many things, Donna sometimes makes an excellent window between the two men.
Donna and Rachel are very good friends. They enjoy each other's company and will go to different places together, such as the ballet or out for drinks. Both confide in each other often, whether it is about men or other problems. Donna once told Rachel that she used to have feelings for Harvey. Likewise, Rachel tells Donna about her kiss with Mike and the message she left him. In the episode "Rewind", it shows how they became friends. They are close and respect each other.
Louis is a recently appointed name partner alongside Jessica Pearson and Harvey Specter at Pearson Specter Litt. Louis genuinely likes Donna and finds her beautiful-- he also constantly hopes to steal her away from Harvey Specter. Donna, however, does not return Louis' high regard. She takes great amusement in teasing him (much like Harvey does), and does not trust him. This is because she finds Louis unreliable--his penchant for deviousness and cunning make him untrustworthy.
Despite this, she occasionally enjoys Louis' company. When Louis was looking for a pet cat, she gave Louis her opinion on his profile and helped him search for his future pet online. Both share a love for the theatre, and Louis is constantly trying to bribe Donna with tickets to plays, concerts, etc. in exchange for information or company. They occasionally act out scenes from Shakespeare's plays late at night near the fax machine at Pearson Hardman.
Norma is Louis' long-suffering legal secretary. Although we never see Norma, these two women seem to be thick as thieves when it comes to gossip. Norma does not seem to be as well-connected as Donna is, but she always gives Donna the latest scoop on Louis' shenanigans. Both Louis and Harvey are creeped out by Norma, which amuses and exasperates Donna to no end.
- She is from Cortland, NY.
- However, she moved to Hartford, Connecticut after her father gambled the family money away.
- Donna's grandmother used to own a Maine Coon cat.
- Donna is always listening to Harvey's private conversations through the intercom.
- She and Harvey have a pre-trial ritual that involves a can-opener and thumbtacks.
- Donna is an excellent actress who "embodies" her character.
- Donna claims she does not need words to communicate.
- Donna has been proposed to numerous times-- she's seen more diamonds than DeBeers.
- Donna likes to play with Raoul from Accounting on Tuesdays when she's bored.
- Donna loves Halloween and asks Harvey for Halloween off every July with a sheepish look on her face.
- Donna tricked Harvey into letting her parents stay at his condo by faking tears.
- She once attempted to have Harvey give her father a loan of $250,000; however, Harvey refused.
- Donna's abilities to fake tears include tracking the Demi Moore single tear from either her left eye or her right.
- It is implied during a conversation with Rachel that she has feelings for Harvey.
- She knows everything and rarely doesn't know something.
- While introducing herself to strangers with Rachel, she used the name "Harriet Specter" and described herself like Harvey.
- Donna considers herself a "fax whisperer", due to her ability to fix the fax machine when it is broken or jammed.
- She once said she had access to Harvey's bank accounts.