Trooper who won suit over leave cleared to resume former duties

22-year veteran says he might retire instead

May 21, 1999|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

A Maryland State Police trooper -- prevented by his superiors from working as a flight paramedic since winning a sex discrimination lawsuit against the agency 3 1/2 months ago -- has been given the go-ahead to resume his duties with the medical evacuation helicopter unit.

Tfc. H. Kevin Knussman, who is using the extended paternity leave a jury ruled he was improperly denied after the birth of his first daughter in 1994, said yesterday that he is still upset with his treatment by the state police and that he might retire after his leave is up rather than return to his job.

"There's certainly that possibility," said Knussman, 42. The 22-year trooper was awarded $375,000 by a federal jury in Baltimore that found he was unconstitutionally discriminated against because of his gender.

"There's clearly some issues involving the state police and how they've treated me that plays into my decision," the Easton resident said. "I think the state police were wrong in what they did."

Noting Knussman's trial testimony that he couldn't remember the treatment he gave to two patients and that he was depressed after the denial of his leave, state police officials insisted that Knussman undergo a psychiatric examination before they would allow him to return to work as a flight paramedic. They assigned him to administrative duties but allowed him to retain his police powers and carry a badge and gun.

State police officials said the examination was necessary to determine Knussman's fitness for duty and to ensure the safety of the helicopter pilots he would be flying with and the patients he would be treating.

Knussman and his attorneys contended that the insistence on the examination was retaliation for the trooper's lawsuit.

A hearing on the issue had been scheduled for July before U.S. District Judge Walter E. Black Jr.

But Tuesday, the state police, citing testimony by Knussman's psychiatrist during a deposition for the hearing, informed Knussman by letter that the agency considered him "fit for duty" and said he could return to his job as a flight paramedic when his leave was up.

Betty Stemley Sconion, an assistant attorney general representing the state police, said Knussman's visit to Dr. David Williamson, a state-certified psychiatrist, on May 10, four days before Williamson's deposition, constituted a fitness-for-duty evaluation. Williamson testified during his deposition that he found no psychological problems that would prevent Knussman from doing his work.

"The offer had been made to Tfc. Knussman early on that the evaluation could be done by someone of his own choosing," Sconion said yesterday. "Having complied, he could return to duty."

Sconion said the offer to Knussman was not a change in the state police's position.

"This was not an about-face," she said.

Knussman and his attorneys disagreed.

"We feel it is a reversal," said attorney Robin Cockey of Salisbury, who represented Knussman along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and New York.

"I am certainly pleased that they are withdrawing the last obstacle to his return to his job. But I still feel that what they put him through has been harsh and demeaning."

Sconion and Cockey said Knussman's clearance to return to work as a paramedic would not affect a pending motion by the state to set aside the jury verdict or a motion by the trooper's lawyers to recover $493,000 in legal fees from the state police.

Pub Date: 5/21/99

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