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Make room for Daddy; Family leave: Maryland sex-discrimination verdict affirms father's right to work leave.


THE BALTIMORE federal court verdict affirming a state trooper's right to take family leave sends a strong message to employers.

Despite a 1993 federal law requiring employers to give men and women up to 12 weeks unpaid leave for the birth of a child or for family medical reasons, the Maryland State Police insisted on their own 10-day parental leave policy for Tfc. Howard Kevin Knussman. The officer, who was denied extended leave in 1994, was awarded $375,000 damages by a jury last week.

Men have struggled against workplace bias that discourages their use of parental leave. Some employers routinely gave female workers newborn or medical caregiver leave, while rejecting male requests, although federal law established that right for both.

Previous legal cases have challenged the federal law, particularly its record-keeping requirements. But the Baltimore verdict is the first to decide sex discrimination under the act.

The decision, which attracted national attention, should embolden other working men to take advantage of child and family medical leave.Men make up one-quarter of the 2 million people taking unpaid leave under the law each year. But economics (fathers often earn more of family income) and job concerns discourage many males. And sexist attitudes and corporate culture are difficult to change.

Employers such as AT&T; and Lotus Development have long enabled men (and women) to take parental leave. The results have increased morale and efficiency.

Mr. Knussman's lawsuit had already produced a change: he received 12 weeks leave for his second child's birth. But legal enforcement is still needed for workplaces where the prevailing viewpoint is that "real men" don't take family leave.

Pub Date: 2/07/99

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