Trooper sues over policy denying men family leave


A veteran state trooper sued the Maryland State Police yesterday over a policy that he says denies family leave benefits for fathers solely because of their gender.

The suit, filed by Tfc. Kevin Knussman and the American Civil Liberties Union in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, says the agency refused to grant the trooper the leave he was entitled to under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, and under state law.

The federal law guarantees employees 12 weeks of earned leave upon the birth of a child. In Maryland, state employees who qualify as primary care providers for a newborn or newly adopted child may take 30 days of paid leave.

But state police denied Trooper Knussman extended leave, saying only women were eligible, according to the suit. He sought leave as the primary care provider after his wife experienced complications from her pregnancy.

One administrator told him that "God decided only women can give birth," and denied his request, the suit said. Another time he was told, "Unless your wife is in a coma or dead, you can't be the primary care provider."

"MSP's 1950s mind-set about how families should look and act just doesn't work for the 1990s," said ACLU attorney Deborah Jeon. "Many fathers today don't want to be secondary in their children's lives."

State police spokesman Michael J. McKelvin said Trooper Knussman was told he must prove his wife was unable to provide primary care for their child, then he would be granted any extended leave necessary.

But the two letters from doctors the trooper supplied did not go that far, said Mr. McKelvin. "We don't have the proof," he said.

An 18-year veteran of the department, Trooper Knussman is assigned to the Aviation Division in Talbot County. He applied last fall for four to eight weeks of earned parental leave upon the birth of his first child, due in late December.

According to the suit:

Supervisors denied his initial request, saying he could take two weeks off at most. After the trooper's wife, Kimberly, required hospitalization in late November, he requested the 30-day leave that primary care providers are allowed under Maryland law. But Jill Mullineaux, head of personnel for the state police, told him only women qualified.

The Knussman's daughter, Riley Paige, was born in early December and Mrs. Knussman continued to experience health problems that made it very difficult for her to provide the primary care for the baby, the suit said. Her husband was granted no leave to take over those duties.

The suit asks for an injunction requiring state police to clarify the policy so employees understand it applies equally to men and women. It also asks that Trooper Knussman be compensated for the time and money he should have received.

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