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Jury awards $19 million to police officer who was allegedly told to 'tone down' his 'gayness'


The sergeant claims he was repeatedly passed over for promotions due to his sexual orientation

Image source: KMOV-TV YouTube video screenshot

A jury has awarded a St. Louis County police officer $19 million in his discrimination lawsuit against his department, wherein the plaintiff claims he was mistreated because of his sexual orientation and allegedly told to "tone down" his "gayness" if he wanted another promotion.

What are the details?

Sgt. Keith Wildhaber sued the St. Louis County Police Department in 2017, claiming that three years prior, he was told by St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners member John Saracino, "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," KMOV-TV reported.

Saracino denies making such a comment to Wildhaber, and told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2017, "I would never say anything like that."

But on Friday, a jury in St. Louis County sided with Sgt. Wildhaber, handing down a nearly $20 million verdict.

The jury foreman told reporters of the decision, "We wanted to send a message. If you discriminate you are going to pay a high price...You can't defend the indefensible."

According to The Houston Chronicle, Wildhaber has been with the department since 1994, rising through the ranks and working as a patrolman, then detective, and was promoted to the rank of sergeant in 2011.

The Army veteran claims that since then, he has been repeatedly passed up for being promoted to lieutenant positions, and filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2016 alleging that the reason he was not being promoted was due to his "sex/gender."

In the month following his initial EEOC complaint, Wildhaber says, he was transferred from a precinct near his home to one roughly 27 miles away, where was assigned to work the overnight shift rather than the afternoon hours he had been working before. Following that transfer, The Chronicle reported, "Wildhaber submitted a second complaint, this time tacking on a retaliation charge."

St. Louis County Police sergeant awarded $19M in discrimintation lawsuit

Anything else?

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Monday that St. Louis County Executive Sam Page — who has the power to replace members of the police board — vowed that there would be changes coming to leadership in the near future, following the Wildhaber verdict.

"The current police board and current police chief have served the county faithfully for years," Page wrote in a statement. "The time for leadership change has come and change must start at the top."

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