A federal judge in Baltimore said yesterday that it was premature to decide whether the Maryland State Police are unfairly punishing a trooper who successfully sued the agency over parental leave by requiring that he undergo a psychiatric test before he can resume work as a paramedic.
U.S. District Judge Walter E. Black Jr., saying the state police "just don't get it" when it comes to gender bias, said he would issue a general order directing the agency to apply the federal Family and Medical Leave Act equally to men and women and to refrain from discriminating against those who seek time off from work under it.
"I don't think [the state police] have ever understood what the issues are in this case," said Black, who was making his first comments on the case since a jury rendered a verdict last month. "I don't think they understand the issues today."
Black affirmed a $375,000 award by the jury to Tfc. Howard Kevin Knussman. The jury decided that the state police illegally discriminated against Knussman by denying him extended leave to care for his newborn daughter because he is a man.
The state police also must give Knussman the 9 1/2 weeks of leave he was entitled to after the birth of the first of his two daughters in 1994, Black ruled.
Knussman returned to work Feb. 16, but state police officials assigned him to administrative duties and demanded that he take a psychiatric test before allowing him to work with the medical evacuation helicopter unit.
Robin R. Cockey, Knussman's lawyer, wanted Black to rule on the issue yesterday because of what he called the "overtly retaliatory nature of the requirement."
But Black said he considered the psychiatric exam a "separate issue" on which he would rule only after he had heard all the facts.
Cockey confirmed after the hearing that he planned to ask Black to rule on the question of the examination as soon as the order is filed today or Monday.
Knussman said he has been studying medical procedures and writing a training syllabus, but was eager to work as a paramedic.
State police, who have called the exam "routine," reiterated yesterday that the evaluation is necessary to satisfy themselves that Knussman is fit for duty and to protect the public because of his trial testimony that he was unable to remember the treatment he gave to two patients.
"We're not talking about a ditch digger," said Lt. Col. Cindy Smith, chief of state police support services. "We're talking about somebody who performs minor surgery."
Pub Date: 3/12/99