Police officer told to ‘tone down his gayness’ to get a promotion walks away from lawsuit a multi-millionaire

Lily Wakefield February 12, 2020
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Sgt. Keith Wildhaber, a police officer within Missouri's St. Louis County Police Department

Keith Wildhaber. (St Louis County Police)

A gay police officer who was told to “tone down his gayness” and repeatedly passed over for promotion has walked away with a $10.25 million settlement.

Keith Wildhaber, an officer within Missouri’s St Louis County Police Department, filed a lawsuit in 2017 after he was passed over for promotion to lieutenant despite 15 years of service.

According to Wildhaber’s lawsuit, a member of the St Louis County Board of Police Commissioners had told him: “The command staff has a problem with your sexuality. If you ever want to see a white shirt [be promoted], you should tone down your gayness.”

The gay police officer alleged he was passed over 23 times for promotion, and also said that when he filed a discrimination complaint, he was transferred in retaliation.

He made an offer in April, 2019, to settle the case for $850,000 and a promotion to lieutenant, but the county insisted the case go to trial.

A jury ruled in October that the county and police department had discriminated against Wildhaber, and awarded him $19 million in damages.

But St Louis County pushed aside the verdict and asked for yet another trial, arguing that the discrimination was legal on the basis that sexual orientation is not protected by the Missouri Human Rights Act.

Wildhaber was promoted to lieutenant in December, and on February 10 agreed to a $10.25 million settlement. He plans to retire later this year.

According to HuffPost, the jury foreman said after the trial that the large settlement and verdict would “send a message”.

On the same day as the settlement was reached, St Louis County police chief Jon Belmar said he was stepping down.

County executive Sam Page said: “This lawsuit acknowledges what lieutenant Wildhaber survived in the police department and lets us move forward as a county.

“I think it’s important to recognise that this sends a message to everyone in county government and to all of our employers in the St Louis region, that discrimination will not be tolerated.

“This is an opportunity for our department to move forward and to continue to make the progress that has been made and to stay focused on my… goals for our police department, which is first to keep us safe and second to respect all people.”

Related topics: Jon Belmar, Keith Wildhaber, Missouri, police officer, settlement, st louis county

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