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Putting People First: A Spotlight on Claims Specialists Emily Caputo and Nataliia Melko

March 29, 2024

In honor of Women’s History Month, Ullico is highlighting the contributions of Emily Caputo and Nataliia Melko, two of the impressive women within the Ullico Casualty Group, LLC’s (UCG’s) Professional Liability Claims Department.  Led by Assistant Vice President, Laverne Wingfield, the claims department works with insureds and attorneys to process fiduciary, union, and non-profit labor and management liability insurance claims.

While other insurance providers may use general claims adjusters for these products, UCG’s claims professionals specialize in professional liability for union leaders and multi-employer benefit funds. Both recently promoted to the level of Senior Claims Counsel, Caputo and Melko are two such individuals.  

Getting Started

Although they now work alongside one another, Caputo and Melko’s stories began on different continents. Caputo was born and raised in Maryland, attending a small liberal arts school in western Maryland for her undergraduate degree. Meanwhile, Melko was born in western Ukraine amid the collapse of the Soviet Union. The era’s economic dislocations hit close to home as Melko’s parents, both of whom worked at a bus plant, faced extended periods where employees were not paid. Despite the tumult of the time, Melko recalls her childhood fondly, “I lived in a beautiful city and got to spend my summers in a village where there were animals, and I had lots of time to read.”

While completing her law degree in Ukraine, Melko visited the United States over summer break as part of a work-travel program for students. The experience fueled a desire to live in the Washington, D.C. area long-term. After graduation, she passed the national exam in Ukraine and made plans to earn an advanced degree in America. With her parents’ blessing, two suitcases, and a small savings, Melko left home in 2011 to build a life in her new country.

Soon after arriving, she accepted a waitressing job, began a master’s degree at American University’s Washington College of Law, and took out a large loan. While working at the restaurant, she met the general counsel for the Iron Workers International union who offered her a job as a paralegal. A transformative opportunity, the position helped Melko get her foot in the door and build a professional network in her new home. For the next two years she completed courses, worked at the Iron Workers headquarters in D.C., and took shifts at the restaurant to make ends meet before eventually graduating and passing the bar exam.

Caputo was busy establishing her professional career in the Washington, D.C. area as well. After receiving her undergraduate degree, she began working for a law firm in the nation’s capital. She looks back at the time fondly, noting “The attorneys were very engaging and loved to talk about the law and what they did. They were also very flexible, allowing me to work and go to law school in the evenings.” In addition to her full-time job and legal studies at Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law, Caputo also decided to pursue a master’s degree in psychology.

It was an intimidating workload, but Caputo found inspiration in her mother. “My mom worked, raised two daughters, and went to school at night to earn her degrees. She’s a strong, independent woman and although I’m sure it was quite difficult, she always seemed to manage it with grace.”

Caputo found that her psychology coursework complemented her budding legal career in significant ways. “Law school prepares you to think like a lawyer, but it doesn’t really teach you how to interact with clients,” said Caputo. As part of her psychology program, she did a lot of counseling and clinical interviewing. She also did volunteer work with domestic violence shelters and worked as a crisis counselor with survivors of sexual assault—explaining their rights and guiding them through next steps. “As I started practicing and doing sensitive workplace investigations, that experience helped me understand how to talk to people who are navigating some difficult circumstances.”

From that educational foundation, Caputo launched a career in labor and employment law. Prior to UCG, she worked at a large public research university, supervising a team of civil rights investigators.

Melko’s career at the Iron Workers proved formative as well. Working alongside Iron Workers leadership, members, and their families, she gained a nuanced understanding of the union, Taft-Hartley and ERISA world.  “Helping retirees and their families or being on a call with a pensioner who had questions about their benefits brought real meaning to my work,” said Melko.

Joining Forces at Ullico

While still at the Iron Workers, Melko performed some consulting work for UCG under the leadership of Tina Fletcher, President of Ullico Casualty Group. She thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  Once her boss began contemplating retirement, Melko looked to UCG as an exciting next step. “I was a lawyer, and I knew unions, labor laws, and benefits, so I felt like the Property and Casualty [Claims] Department would be a perfect fit.”  Impressed by Melko’s work ethic and knowledge of the field, Fletcher hired her in December of 2020.

Once she settled in at UCG, Melko was thrilled by the number of women in leadership positions. “It just happened that most of my early life and career mentors were male. Then I joined Ullico and was introduced to strong and exceptional female leadership for the first time.  Tina Fletcher, Stephanie Whalen, Sonia Axter, Laverne Wingfield—each of them has qualities I genuinely admire, and I’ve learned so much from them.”

Caputo joined Ullico around the same time – in February 2021. With a background in labor and employment law, she was an immediate asset for the claims department. Part of that success is her careful attention to the human element in the business. “Just in talking to our insureds, it is clear they are juggling a lot—expanding the membership, providing their members benefits, and handling member grievances. There is only so much time in the day,” said Caputo. “I see my role as helping them by taking something off their plate so that they can focus on supporting their members.”

Similarly, Melko observed, “You can’t treat people as numbers. Of course, it is my job to understand the numbers behind a claim, but I also understand that these are union people. As a union-owned company, we recognize the challenges they are facing.”

Alongside the work of Wingfield and their colleagues in the claims department, Caputo and Melko’s people-first mentality is making a difference. Leveraging their professional experience and the obstacles they have overcome in life, these claims specialists are helping to set the standard for excellence in the field.