Winner of discrimination lawsuit working in office, not as paramedic

State police insisting on psychiatric exam before return to old job

February 18, 1999|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

The Maryland State Police paramedic who won a sex discrimination lawsuit against his agency for being denied paternity leave has been allowed to return to work -- but only for administrative duties.

Trooper 1st Class H. Kevin Knussman went back to work with his full police powers Tuesday for the first time since winning a $375,000 jury verdict two weeks ago.

State police officials, however, still insist that he submit to a psychiatric evaluation before being allowed to resume his job as a paramedic with the medical evacuation helicopter unit.

"He could shoot somebody, but he couldn't patch them up," Knussman's lawyer, Robin R. Cockey of Salisbury, said yesterday.

Cockey charged that the state police insistence on a psychiatric evaluation was "the most blatant retribution one can imagine" against his client for pursuing his claim.

Assistant Attorney General Betty Stemley Sconion, who represents the state police, defended the agency's position.

Knussman is doing office work, not patrol, Sconion said. The "principal concern" of the state police was Knussman's ability to function as a paramedic, which stemmed from the trooper's testimony that he was unable to remember the treatment he gave to two patients during his case.

Sconion said it was "routine" to have an evaluation whenever questions exist about a trooper's fitness for duty. "I don't feel it's retaliatory, it's precautionary," she said.

The evaluation probably wouldn't take more than 1 1/2 hours, Sconion said.

Knussman's case was said by attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union to be the first in the country to raise the issue of sex discrimination in the application of the Family and Medical Leave Act. The verdict in Baltimore federal court Feb. 2 received widespread national attention.

An Easton resident and a trooper for 22 years, Knussman had taken personal leave to attend his trial and was planning to return to work Feb. 11 when state police officials told him he would first have to undergo psychiatric tests.

Cockey said he received an e-mail from state police officials Monday saying Knussman could return to work this week, but only to perform administrative work.

Last week, Knussman hand-delivered a letter to the State House for Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend contending that he was being "punished for the jury verdict" and asking them to prevent the state police's lawyers from "legal maneuvering designed to prolong the litigation."

A Glendening spokeswoman, Michelle Byrnie, said the governor had received the letter but had not decided how to respond.

Pub Date: 2/18/99

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