In Blocking Father's Time Off to Care for First-Born, South Carolina is the "Deadbeat," ACLU Charges

March 8, 2000 12:00 am

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In Blocking Father’s Time Off to Care for First-Born, South Carolina is the “Deadbeat,” ACLU Charges


GREENWOOD, SC–Rather than give a male state trooper time off to care for his first-born child, the American Civil Liberties Union today said that South Carolina officials are asking a federal court to invalidate the hugely popular Family and Medical Leave Act as unconstitutional.

Acting on behalf of Lance Corporal David O. Roberts, a former trooper with the South Carolina Highway Patrol, ACLU attorney Sara Mandelbaum sharply criticized the state’s motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the federal Family and Medical Leave Act is unconstitutional.

According to the ACLU’s complaint filed in 1998, officials refused to grant Roberts parental leave because of his gender and then fired him in retaliation for attempting to exercise his rights. The ACLU says that the Public Safety Department’s actions violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and the Family and Medical Leave Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1993.

But in countering Roberts’ claim, state attorneys have called the entire law into question, arguing that Congress is not authorized to mandate the provision of benefits to men and women, such as time off to care for infant children or elderly family members.

“The state of South Carolina is willing to try to bring down a federal law rather then admit they have violated this employee’s rights” said Sara Mandelbaum, an attorney from the ACLU Women’s Rights Project who is arguing the case. “Usually the state is supposed to go after deadbeat dads but in this case the dad wanted to be with his newborn child and the state is the deadbeat.”

While the federal law would still apply to private employers, this case raises the serious question of whether the Act will apply to state employees as Congress plainly intended, Mandelbaum said.

Lance Corporal Roberts said he applied for leave because his wife had not been working long enough to qualify for paid leave. He and his wife also wanted to avoid putting their child into day care for as long as possible.

“This was the birth of my first little girl and I wanted to be there,” Roberts said. “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.”

This is not the first case of its kind. In a remarkably similar case brought by the ACLU, a jury awarded a Maryland state trooper $375,000 in February 1999 for emotional damages in the first-ever sex discrimination verdict in conjunction with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

“The federal law was originally intended to strengthen the family unit by encouraging men to share in child care and other nurturing duties traditionally performed by women,” said Mandelbaum. “The gender-neutral application of the law also serves to battle discrimination within male-dominated institutions like the South Carolina Highway Patrol.”

The case is David O. Roberts v. State of South Carolina, Civil Action No. 98-2217, filed in United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, Greenwood Division.

June 22 release can be read at:

The ACLU’s brief in the case can be found online at:

A timeline of events in the case is available online at:

ACLU Fact Sheet on Working Families and the FMLA can be found at:

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