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Law Firm of the Month Priddy, Cutler, Naake & Meade

Priddy, Cutler, Naake & Meade

A Commitment to People in the Workplace

By Dan Baldwin

Priddy, Cutler, Naake & Meade is a pro-union law firm, dedicated to working people. Its primary practice areas, in addition to representing labor unions, are employee rights, workplace injury, employee benefits and personal injury.

Earlier this year, its attorneys were privileged to file a federal court action on behalf of nine unions to challenge Kentucky county right-to-work ordinances.

The firm has a track record of respected work in the labor and employment field, something they attribute to a wealth of experience and knowledge, and a dedication to employee rights. Alton D. Priddy says, “Everybody here believes in what he or she is doing. It’s not just a job for us. We get a lot of satisfaction from helping employees in their employment problems.” Peter Naake attributes that attitude to life experiences. “Many of us have come from working backgrounds and tend to side with the underdogs. We choose to do this because we have a liking for workers who have less of an advantage in a dispute with their employers and their employers’ insurance companies.”

But focus on the labor movement does not exclude representing people in the professional and managerial fields. Irwin “Buddy” Cutler notes the diversity of firm clientele. “The firm has a commitment to helping people in the workplace. We represent the guy digging the ditch, and also nurses, doctors and even corporate executives.” Individual clients come to the firm largely through referrals from other lawyers and from union clients. Don Meade agrees, stating, “We are devoted to the American labor movement and the support of labor unions, but we represent working people from all walks of life, including professionals and public sector employees.” The firm is currently representing an attorney in a wrongful discharge claim.

David Leightty says, “We often focus on certain issues—for example, non-compete agreements. These have been presented to employees by employers and told either you sign this or you lose your job. We also deal with whistle blower and retaliation issues. We deal with severance agreements and right-to-work ordinances. Addressing those issues is a sort of definition of our firm.”

An Unusual Combination of Talent and Experience
Priddy says, “I think we’re probably one of the most experienced and knowledgeable firms in this region in the field of union side labor law and plaintiff employment law. The array of experience among the firm’s members in the different fields and areas allows us to help people get through the vast range of legal issues connected with their employment.”

“Being traditional labor lawyers and employment lawyers is a very unusual combination and one of the things that makes us unique,” Meade says.

Partners
Alton D. Priddy has more than 42 years of experience in labor and employment law and personal injury. He has been listed in The Best Lawyers in America since 1984 and was recognized as one of Kentucky’s Super Lawyers since 2007. He graduated from the University of Louisville Law School in 1972 and is admitted to practice in Kentucky and Indiana. He is a past co-chair of the LBA section on labor and employment and is AV rated.

He primarily practices labor and employment law. “When you work this area of the law you get exposed to the entire panoply of issues facing individuals.” He notes that an issue affecting a wage earner’s job affects more than just an employee not getting a paycheck. “When someone can’t work, can’t get his or her insurance to pay on a claim, when something happens within a family that requires the wage earner to be away from the job such as sickness or death in the family, or personal issues in their home life, it will have an impact on their job. Often the situation requires an experienced attorney to sort things out fairly for that wage earner.”

“If you have a feeling for people in such situations and feel people should be treated fairly and equally, you’re naturally drawn into this area of the law. This is a major area where people don’t always get treated fairly based on performance,” he says.

Buddy Cutler chose his practice area in law school when he “really fell in love” with labor law. “It is something I feel good about. So many times I’ve seen companies take advantage of employees. They need an advocate. I see my practice as one avenue to correct those injustices.” Cutler sees himself not only as an advocate but also as a counselor, trying to find creative solutions for his clients and not hesitating to tell them when they are wrong so they have realistic expectations. He takes great satisfaction in representing nurses before the Kentucky Board of Nursing.

Cutler was elected in 2005 to the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers, a national organization composed of leading lawyers in this field, both labor and management. At the time of his election, he was one of only eight Kentucky lawyers in the College, and one of only two representing unions or employees. A past chair of the LBA section of labor and employment law, he has been a member of the Lawyers Coordinating Committee of the AFL-CIO since its founding in 1983. He is listed in The Best Lawyers in America and is recognized as one of Kentucky’s “Super Lawyers.” Martindale-Hubbell gives him its highest rating, AV Preeminent. He is proud to have recently defended parts of Kentucky’s prevailing law against a constitutional attack in our state’s Supreme Court.

A Louisville native, Cutler earned his B.A. from Yale University and his J.D. from Cornell Law School.

Peter J. Naake’s practice is primarily in representing workers in on-the-job injuries, including workers compensation cases. He has advised and represented many clients in social security disability and other retirement systems, unemployment insurance, vocational rehabilitation, third party tort liability cases, and has a special interest in occupational safety and health matters.

“My clients need the advantage of good guidance to get them through the workers’ compensation process. Usually, the employers and insurance companies have more resources. Many of the employees feel overwhelmed, particularly in the cases I do. My clients haven’t been through the legal process generally, while the employers and their insurance companies have been through it many times.”

Naake was a solo practitioner for 15 years representing claimants through the workers’ compensation process before he joined the firm in 2001. He finds that working in a larger firm gives him the resources and flexibility to focus on workers’ compensation, social security disability, and related cases, while consulting with other lawyers in the firm about employment matters such as workers’ compensation retaliation, unemployment, or employee’s right under a union contract. “We have a high level of professionalism and competence in our firm that an employee coming in can rely upon to help his or her situation, which simply aren’t available to the solo or small firm lawyer.”

Naake is a graduate of the University of Michigan with a degree in Philosophy. He earned his J.D. from the University of Kentucky College of Law in 1988. Currently he serves as an officer on the Kentucky Bar Association’s Workers’ Compensation section. He frequently speaks at union membership meetings and training sessions about injuries occurring at work, and presents at continuing legal education seminars about workers’ compensation law.

Don C. Meade. Meade decided to be a union labor lawyer during a legal internship at General Electric in law school, where he found the relationship between a strong union and a strong company “electrifying.” Meade says, “We are all drawn to the people we represent because of our belief in the American labor movement as a means of improving the lives of employees and of strengthening the country against the growing division of wealth that is so dangerous.”

Among the many unions he has worked with over the years, Meade says that representing the Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA) is the highlight of his career. JCTA represents almost 6000 teachers and he describes it as a “sophisticated, politically active, passionate and highly effective organization with strong leadership.” “I love working with the JCTA leadership team to protect the rights of teachers, and of the teaching profession, during these turbulent and politically charged times in public education. It presents me with challenges as a lawyer that constantly require my absolute best work.”

He is actively engaged in employment litigation, a field that has won him recognition within the local bar and in various publications. In the last two years he has prevailed in four cases in the 6th circuit, having three remanded for trial, and has tried a federal age discrimination case. He represents not only workers, but doctors, university employees, HR Directors and executives.

Meade started his own firm, Miller and Meade PSC, in 1984 with Mark Miller (deceased) and Scott Miller (of counsel) that later merged with Al Priddy’s firm to form the core of the present group. “I am very happy with the firm we have developed and what we stand for.”

David Leightty. The firm’s newest partner, Leightty, brings 37 years of labor and employment practice to the firm. He began his law career practicing in the former Segal, Isenberg, Sales, & Cutler firm. His experience in public employment, includes 15 years in the old City of Louisville Law Department, after which he came to represent a number of the unions for Metro Louisville employees. He has litigated many employment discrimination cases, wage-and-hour cases, and other employment-related cases including non-compete agreements, and whistleblower claims. Activities since joining the PCNM firm in 2012 include a Kentucky Supreme Court decision upholding the application of the “Police Bill of Rights” statute, participation in another Kentucky Supreme Court case limiting the harmful effects of non-compete agreements, and a federal court decision striking down as unconstitutional discrimination against gay employees by the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Currently, Leightty represents building/construction unions, public-sector unions including in law enforcement and individual employees.

Leightty is the author of Kentucky Employment and Labor Law, published by Data Trace in 1998 and updated annually since. He has been listed in the annual Kentucky Super Lawyers since 2008, and has been named in Louisville Magazine’s Best Louisville Lawyers. He served as co-chair of the Labor Section of the Kentucky Bar Association in 1993-94. Leightty received his J.D. from the University of Louisville in 1977.

Attorneys
Thomas J. Schulz has more than 30 years of experience representing labor unions and their members including eleven years as general counsel for the statewide council of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. He has practiced extensively in all levels of both state courts and in the Federal courts. He was admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court in July 2000. His practice encompasses collective bargaining, arbitration, administrative practice, lobbying and legislative affairs, litigation, and appellate advocacy. Schulz has been practicing with the firm since 2004.

Houston Parrish has both private practice and institutional experience. During his first ten years of practice, his personal injury and employment law experience netted multi-million dollar verdicts in both areas. He spent seven years as in-house counsel/ staff representative for AFSCME Council 40 in Wisconsin, where he represented over 2,000 union members in more than 40 bargaining units, handling all their arbitrations and contract negotiations. In 2012, he returned to his home state of Kentucky to practice. His practice now includes labor law, employment law, personal injury matters of all kinds, and contract litigation.

Matt Lynch focuses primarily on labor and employment law. He has practiced before the Kentucky Personnel Board and the Merit Systems Protection Board on behalf of public sector unions and employees, as well as before the National Labor Relations Board, state and federal courts, and labor arbitrators on behalf of private sector unions and employees.

Ben Basil is a former union and political organizer whose practice is focused on labor and employment law. In addition to representing labor unions with grievances, arbitration, and before the NLRB he also represents plaintiffs before state agencies and in civil employment litigation, including in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Alison Messex brings a decade of professional experience in the legal, nonprofit and political arenas to her second year of practice in labor and employment law. She represents public and private- sector unions as well as individual plaintiffs, and her practice includes administrative hearings, arbitrations, civil litigation, and appellate work.

Open and Collaborative
The partners credit much of the firm’s success to an open and collaborative management style that encourages a free-flow of ideas combined with accountability, according to Cutler. Meade agrees, “We have a very collaborative business model among the lawyers in the firm. There are five partners, but everyone is involved in decision making and goal setting and we try to work by consensus.”

All the attorneys agree that their collaborative approach to representing and advising clients–where the lawyers often discuss with each other the challenges of their cases—is a valuable asset, providing the lawyers insights and energy.

The drive for those positive outcomes is stated clearly by Naake. “I draw strength from my clients. I like people who work with their hands and who know what they are doing. I sympathize with them when they face employment challenges. I know what they’re going through and I know what the end of that process is like. I like being able to give them hope that they will come through these situations on top.”