State trooper back in court for denied leave damages

$375,000 awarded in 1999 was thrown out on appeal

August 10, 2002|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

After seven years of legal wrangling, the damage award to a former Maryland State Police trooper denied extended parental leave could come down to whether the man's anguish resulted from his employer's decision or the long-running lawsuit it triggered.

Attorneys for H. Kevin Knuss- man asked a federal judge in Baltimore yesterday for a "substantial" damage award, possibly approaching $300,000, and argued that there was little question that Knussman's severe depression resulted from lost time with his family.

But an attorney for the state police and a federal appeals court have sharply disputed that contention.

In throwing out a $375,000 jury award last year, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., called that amount excessive and cautioned that any award to Knussman cannot cover emotional distress from the laborious litigation process.

U.S. District Judge Walter E. Black Jr. now will determine what damages, if any, Knuss- man is owed. Black is expected to rule by Labor Day.

A federal jury in Baltimore gave Knussman the award in 1999 based on evidence that the state police had discriminated against him and violated the Family and Medical Leave Act by denying him leave to care for his first daughter, who was born in 1994, because he is a man.

Assistant State Attorney General Betty Stemley Sconion said that any award to Knussman should be nominal because he did eventually receive the leave time.

She also argued that medical professionals had told Knuss- man that he would alleviate his stress and depression by ending his lawsuit against the state.

"I would ask this court to consider that money is not the only thing that can make Kevin Knussman whole," Sconion said.

Robin R. Cockey, a Salisbury attorney who has represented Knussman through the American Civil Liberties Union, said similar cases have resulted in awards of about $300,000.

However, Cockey did not put a specific price tag on Knuss- man's ordeal.

"When we stop and consider what experiences in our life have meant the most to us, most of us would say family experiences," Cockey said. "When we say what price tag should be put on the loss of those family experiences, I think the amount has to be substantial."

Knussman, a former flight paramedic from Easton, retired in 1999 after 23 years on the force. He said yesterday that he now is a full-time, stay-at-home dad to his two daughters, now ages 7 and 5.

In an earlier ruling, Black left intact the jury's award, but said a state personnel officer, not the state, is liable for the payment.

But the judge indicated yesterday that the appeals court now would guide his ruling.

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