St. Louis County Police Sergeant, Keith Wildhaber, who claimed the department discriminated against him for being gay, was awarded $19 million in a lawsuit.
Wildhaber filed the lawsuit against the St. Louis County Police Department in 2017 after he was allegedly told to turn down his gayness if he wanted to be promoted to lieutenant.
The lawsuit specifies a 2014 incident during which Wildhaber spoke to John Saracino, a member of the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners at the time, regarding his application for a promotion. Saracino allegedly said, “The command staff has a problem with your sexuality. If you ever want to see a white shirt [i.e. get a promotion], you should tone down your gayness.”
“I think I said, ‘I can’t believe we are having this conversation in 2014.’ It was devastating to hear,” Wildhaber testified Wednesday. “We had never spoken of my sexuality before, and I thought he was just trying to be helpful to me and looking out for my best interest in the promotional process.”
While Saracino denied having that conversation, the lawsuit alleges that Wildhaber, who continued to apply for lieutenant positions, remained a sergeant while his colleagues were promoted.
In April 2016, Wildhaber filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, claiming that the county didn’t promote him based on his sex/gender.
Wildhaber said that he was transferred to another precinct later that year that was about 27 miles away from his home. He was assigned to work 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Before he filed the complaint, he worked the afternoon shift much closer to his home.
Since the trial took place, there have been multiple calls for changes in leadership in the police department.
County Executive Sam Page wrote in a statement that the “time for leadership changes has come and change must start at the top.”
Page additionally spoke about the allegations in the lawsuit, saying, “Our police department must be a place where every community member and every officer is respected and treated with dignity. Employment decisions in the department must be made on merit and who is best for the job.”