Jury Awards $20M To Cop Denied Promotion, Told 'Tone Down Your Gayness'

A shakeup of the St. Louis County PD is coming after a jury awarded a $20 million discrimination judgement to a gay cop.

St. Louis County, MO – The future of the leadership of the St. Louis County Police Department is up in the air after a jury awarded $20 million to a police sergeant who claimed he wasn’t promoted because he was gay.

St. Louis County Police Sergeant Keith Wildhaber had nearly 15 years of experience and scored third out of 26 sergeants on the lieutenant’s exam the first time he was passed over for promotion, The Washington Post reported.

After he had been passed up for promotion 23 times, Sgt. Wildhaber filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination – and later retaliation – against him for being openly gay.

The sergeant’s lawsuit said that he had served in the U.S. Army for four years before he joined the St. Louis Police Department originally as a security officer in 1994, The Washington Post reported.

He became a law enforcement officer for the department in 1997 and quickly worked his way up through the ranks from patrolman to detective and then, in 2011, to sergeant.

So in 2014, Sgt. Wildhaber said it came as a shock to him when a member of the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners – the entity that oversees the police department – told him that his sexuality was what was holding him back on the police force, The Washington Post reported.

“The command staff has a problem with your sexuality,” the board member allegedly told Sgt. Wildhaber in February of 2014. “If you ever want to see a white shirt [i.e., get a promotion], you should tone down your gayness.”

The sergeant was crushed by the information, according to The Washington Post.

“I think I said, ‘I can’t believe we are having this conversation in 2014.’ It was devastating to hear,” he testified. “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.”

The lawsuit said Sgt. Wildhaber continued to apply for lieutenant openings with no luck, and in 2016, he filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, The Washington Post reported.

But instead of being promoted, the sergeant was transferred to another precinct almost 30 miles from home in what is known colloquially as a “geography lesson,” and stuck on the midnight shift.

A number of witnesses testified about how police administration officials had made inappropriate and anti-gay remarks.

One witness said a captain had called Sgt. Wildhaber “fruity” and said he was “way too out there” with his gayness to make lieutenant, The Washington Post reported.

A former executive assistant to St. Louis County Deputy Police Chief Kenneth Gregory testified that she had overheard her boss saying that homosexuality was “an abomination.”

Sgt. Wildhaber’s attorney, Russ Riggan, said the most damning evidence and “best sound bite” in the trial came from the police chief himself, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar testified that the sergeant’s lawsuit had been a factor in denying him a promotion.

Chief Belmar also tried to claim that Sgt. Wildhaber had tipped off a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) target but then admitted he had never launched an internal affairs investigation into the incident, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The jury deliberated for only three hours after the week-long trial.

They returned a verdict that awarded Sgt. Wildhaber $1.9 million in actual damages and $10 million in punitive damages on the discrimination allegation, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Additionally, the jury awarded the sergeant another $999,000 in actual damages and $7 million in punitive damages for the department’s retaliation against him after he filed his complaint with the EEOC.

“We wanted to send a message,” the jury foreman told reporters after the verdict. “If you discriminate you are going to pay a big price. … You can’t defend the indefensible.”

On Sunday evening, a St. Louis County elected official began calling for Chief Belmar’s resignation, The Washington Post reported.

“It is clear to me that there is a rampant culture of homophobia and also racism,” St. Louis County Councilwoman Lisa Clancy told KSDK. “The council hears about this almost every week at our council meetings, but also within the community, that there’s a lot of issues within our police department right now.”

On Monday, the chairman of the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners resigned, according to KMOV.

The board is made up of five members, all of whom were appointed by the last county executive.

Current St. Louis County Executive Sam Page posted a statement to Twitter on Sunday that said he was about to make some big changes for the county’s law enforcement.

“The time for leadership change has come and change must start at the top,” Page tweeted. “We will begin with the appointment of new members to the police board, which oversees the police chief. An announcement on those appointments is forthcoming. Change must be thoughtful and orderly so that the good police services that our county residents receive are not interrupted.”

Comments (67)
No. 1-14
Jim H. - Virginia US
Jim H. - Virginia US

$20M seems really excessive to me.

“ We wanted to send a message,” the jury foreman told reporters after the verdict. “If you discriminate you are going to pay a big price. … You can’t defend the indefensible.”

I am not aware of any federal law that prohibits discrimination based upon sexual orientation. Also, Missouri law does not address discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

So, I think the verdict is not consistent with the law.

That said, as heterosexual as I am, I think the 14th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Declaration of Independence guarantee the right of every legal resident to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Congress could do something about it, but they will be focused on impeachment for the next five years.

Excalibr4
Excalibr4

I guess they wanted him to act more macho...

IseeWhereThisIsGoing
IseeWhereThisIsGoing

Does his sexuality have anything to do with his job? no? then the jury is right, the county was wrong, and the chief should be terminated. This is absolutely wrong.

I don't care who you want to sleep with, denying someone a deserved promotion because of their sexuality is wrong, and I'm glad the jury sent a message.

GSDLUVVA1
GSDLUVVA1

It seems seems like Wilhaber had been pushing the "issue" for soooo many years, he knew EXACTLY what "issue" he was pushing" and what outcum he was going for!! he was going to put "it" to the Dept one way or the other!! and prob since he couldn't get his promotion, he started puttin on the "ritz" more and more!! and NO, I do NOT think he should have won! and "that" lifestyle should go BACK in the closet - wayyy back in the closet where it belongs!! NATURE does not live that way!! soooo...(and I am no "religious fanatic" or "bible thumper"!! plus, that's wwwaaaayyy toooo much $$$ for someone to get, over being pi$$y abt NOT getting a promotion - think abt alllll the WOMEN who don't get promotions bcuz MEN "think" they don't deserve them, just bcuz they ARE WOMEN!! IT STILL HAPPENS TODAY!! but, try putting that before a jury of our "peers" and see it how well that is "perceived"!!???? (all in the eye of the beholder...)

dcoskrey
dcoskrey

Don't ask don't tell.

JBo
JBo

“We wanted to send a message,” the jury foreman told reporters..."

I expect the message has been received.

Gap Filler
Gap Filler

@GSDLUVVA1 actually, nature DOES in fact live that way with homosexuality being rampant among the animal kingdom. Don't just rant for rants sake without having your facts correct

Burgers Allday
Burgers Allday

Does this mean that he broke the law when he was in the Army from 1990 to 1993? If so, then wouldn't that be grounds for termination from his later police job?

Marxest
Marxest

Man, they harassed the hell out of him. It sounds as if Sgt Wildhaber deserves every penny of that settlement. I hope that the police don't offset the money that they have to pay out by handing out excessive unnecessary tickets and fines to civilians, especially minority civilians.

NomonK
NomonK

I could care less about anyone's sexual preferences on the job. As long as they do their job and have no sexual harassment charges brought against them what difference does it make. This guy was PASSED OVER WAY TO MANY TIMES. He has all the qualifications. Passed all the exams. So therefore they had no right to prevent him from being promoted. He deserves every penny of the award. Every person that had an hand in holding him back needs to be fired and replaced.

EMarie
EMarie

I find this person's behavior disgusting. Mocking what he thinks a woman acts like. I am a real woman and I resent him behaving like he is a woman. Check your underware dude and act like a gentleman! He was passed over for a reason...there IS something wrong with him. If he were wearing a black/brown face it would have been dealt with a very long time ago! The End!

FuzzBall44
FuzzBall44

That’s the Bible Belt for you. A bunch of bible thumping idiots!!

TarnishedCopper
TarnishedCopper

Obviously his sexuality was not a problem if he made it through training, probation, promtion and service as a Detective and then Sgt. If his promotion was denied because of his work, complaints, etc, the discrimination probably would not have appeared nearly as obvious, but it wasn't. If he did his job well, without interference from his personal life he should have been treated the same as any other cop. The brass built a glass ceiling that he was unable to penetrate. The heads of some "Good-Ole-Boys" will probably roll over this one. It's probably way past time for that to happen.

Vodkabreakfast
Vodkabreakfast

20M is a hell of a black eye to the system for ignoring equality of opportunity. Those responsible will now be frantically deciding which scapegoat gets a bus party.