A gay police officer in St. Louis, Missouri, who accused his commanders of passing him over for promotion nearly two dozen times because of his sexual orientation, has reached a multi-million dollar settlement.
Lt. Keith Wildhaber said that after he had filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming discrimination, he was transferred to a precinct far from his home in retaliation.
In his lawsuit filed in 2017, Wildhaber also said that John Saracino, then a member of the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners, told him that police command staff "has a problem with your sexuality" and that if he wanted promotion, "you should tone down your gayness," ABC News reported. Saracino denied he made the comment.
The New York Times
A police commissioner allegedly told Sergeant Keith Wildhaber, “You should tone down your gayness.” A jury in St Louis has awarded him nearly $20 million in a discrimination case. https://nyti.ms/2MWmJwP
Over the course of five and a half years, Sgt. Keith Wildhaber, above, was turned down for 23 promotions.
‘Tone Down Your Gayness’: Police Sergeant Is Awarded $20 Million in Discrimination Case
The sergeant, who is gay, had said the St. Louis County Police Department failed to promote him based on sex stereotyping and retaliated against him for filing a lawsuit.
7:20 AM - Oct 29, 2019
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But Wildhaber said that he was passed over for promotion 23 times despite good performance reviews and a strong resume.
He said his superiors, in particular St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, did not promote him "because he does not conform to the county's gender-based norms, expectations, and/or preferences," stated the suit.
Last April, Wildhaber had offered to settle with the county for $850,000 and a promotion to lieutenant, which the Board of Commissioners rejected, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Back in October, a jury in St. Louis County Circuit Court awarded Wildhaber nearly $20 million. He negotiated with the county to keep a larger share of the award and an agreement was reached on Monday.
Wildhaber will be paid $10.25 million by the end of January 2021. After his legal costs, he will get to keep $6.5 million, according to The Washington Examiner. He has also been promoted to lieutenant and appointed commander of St. Louis County Police Department's new Diversity and Inclusion Unit, according to CBS affiliate KMOV.
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After the announcement of the payout on Monday, Belmar announced he would retire after a 34-year career with the St. Louis County Police Department, although St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said this was not linked with the settlement.
Page said the settlement discussions had saved the county money.
"This lawsuit acknowledges what Lt. Wildhaber survived in the police department and lets us move forward as a county," Page said.
"I think it's important to recognize 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," he added, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Newsweek has contacted the St. Louis County executive, as well as Wildhaber's attorney, Russ Riggan, for comment.