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Parental Leave Suit Filed by ACLU

June 23, 1999

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a South Carolina state trooper fired for trying to take a parental leave.

The case involving Lance Cpl. David Roberts marks the second sex discrimination case under the Family and Medical Leave Act, the 1993 federal law that allows workers unpaid leaves to care for new babies or sick family members.

In the first case, a Maryland state trooper won $375,000 in damages in February after a four-year legal battle against bosses who denied him a parental leave. The Maryland state police’s motion to set aside Kevin Knussman’s victory will be heard July 1.

Both cases illustrate how men increasingly desire time off from work to spend with their children, yet how they face substantial pressures _ both perceived and real _ to continue to put work first.

``Here’s a case where a father’s trying to take responsibility for a child, but being told ... ‘Men don’t do that,’ ″ said Andre Brumme, staff counsel of the ACLU in South Carolina. ``Men should have the same rights as women.″

The ACLU filed suit Tuesday against the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, the agency that oversees the South Carolina Highway Patrol.

Roberts sued the Public Safety agency in July 1998, about 18 months after he was ridiculed for applying for a parental leave to care for his newborn daughter. That suit is still pending.

His commander told him that ″ ‘The man is the breadwinner and it is the man’s responsibility to work, not to stay home with the kids,’ ″ according to the ACLU. Under pressure, Roberts retracted his request for a leave. After receiving several reprimands _ the first in his career _ he was fired in the spring of 1997.

``This was the birth of my first little girl and I wanted to be there,″ said Roberts. ``Looking after a newborn is not a vacation and I wanted to pull my fair share and give my wife the opportunity to get back to her new job and continue her career as well.″

In countering Roberts’ claim, South Carolina state attorneys have called into question the constitutionality of the Family and Medical Leave Act, saying that the federal government doesn’t have the right to mandate states to comply with the act.

A total of 20 million people have taken leave under the federal law, which says all employers with 50 or more workers must allow up to 12 unpaid weeks off to care for a new baby or sick family member.

About 1.4 million women take the leave each year, compared with 500,000 men.

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