Return to routine life postponed for trooper who won bias lawsuit

Media interviews clutter day after court victory

February 04, 1999|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Kevin Knussman had hoped to be able to "just kick back" yesterday.

Fat chance.

In the morning, he was interviewed on CBS Radio. At midday, an operator broke into a telephone interview with a newspaper reporter with a request for an "emergency interrupt" from NBC News. In the afternoon, he had to pack for New York and an appearance today on "Good Morning America."

He did manage to get his 4-year-old daughter, Paige, to school and his 2-year-old, Hope, to morning day care.

But the day after a federal court jury in Baltimore found that the Maryland State Police discriminated against him because of his gender when it denied him extended leave to care for his newborn first child, Trooper 1st Class Knussman did not get to work out at the YMCA near his home in Easton.

"I had to sacrifice that," he said.

Now that the nearly three-week trial is over, the quiet 41-year-old paramedic with the state police helicopter medical evacuation unit said he was looking forward to returning to the routine followed by him, his wife, Kimberly, and the couple's two daughters.

"I'm just hoping we can get this behind us and get back on the normal family schedule of school, work and taking the kids to McDonald's," Knussman said yesterday.

Knussman said he plans to be back on the job Feb. 11.

"I want to spend some time with my family," he said. "We've been focused the last three weeks on this [trial]. The kids are starting to say, `Hold me, Daddy.' "

Kimberly Knussman and the children attended much of the trial, often staying overnight in hotels near the federal courthouse downtown and turning an anteroom outside Courtroom 7A into a makeshift Romper Room with toys such as large, colorful wooden dominoes. But it hardly made for quality family time.

"It's been tough on them," Knussman said of his daughters. "Paige especially sensed that court is not a place where people have been having a good time."

Since filing suit against the state police four years ago, Knussman's case has drawn attention from Congress and the White House.

The jury verdict Tuesday is considered significant because it is the first to decide the issue of sex discrimination in the application of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, enacted five years ago. The act ensures the right of employees to take time off from work after the birth of a child, or to care for sick family members.

The jury awarded Knussman $375,000 in damages, deciding he had been denied his right to equal treatment under the FMLA and a Maryland statute that gave state employees leave to care for their children.

Attorneys for the state police argued in court that Knussman was not discriminated against and said Tuesday that they would "almost certainly" file a motion to set aside the jury's verdict.

That rankles Knussman. "I still don't see where there's any desire on the state police's part to say, `We've made a terrible mistake. Let's set this straight,' " he said.

Knussman said he plans to work 2 1/2 more years as a state police paramedic, taking him to 25 years of service, and then retire from the force and become a physician's assistant.

Pub Date: 2/04/99

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