Ex-trooper awarded $40,000 in leave case

But judge cuts jury prize by more than $300,000

August 28, 2002|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

A federal judge in Baltimore awarded $40,000 yesterday to a former Maryland State Police trooper who was denied extended parental leave because he is a man, substantially reducing the $375,000 a jury had said the veteran officer was owed.

However, U.S. District Judge Walter E. Black Jr. let stand fees and expenses totaling more than $626,000 for the attorneys who represented H. Kevin Knussman, rejecting arguments by a state police lawyer that the amount was excessive and unsubstantiated.

In a statement, Knussman said the seven-year legal fight had made him a "better father and husband. It has brought national attention to family values and, as a result, more fathers are choosing to spend time with their families."

Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union had asked Black this month for a "substantial" damage award, possibly approaching $300,000. But in a decision issued yesterday, Black closely followed the guidance of a federal appeals court that threw out the $375,000 jury verdict last year.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., had called that amount excessive and cautioned that any award to Knussman cannot cover emotional distress from the litigation process.

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 newborn daughter.

Knussman claimed that state police failed to properly inform him that he was entitled to paid leave under federal law after the birth of his daughter in December 1994, and that they discriminated by assuming he was the secondary care provider.

Knussman said he suffered anxiety and depression as a result of the discrimination, and his case drew national attention. He testified before Congress and earned a mention in Hillary Rodham Clinton's book, It Takes a Village.

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