Keith Wildhaber filed a lawsuit against the St. Louis police department after a superior told him to "tone down your gayness." The officer finally reached a $10 million settlement with the county, half the amount the jury had awarded him.
His 2017 lawsuit alleged that he had been discriminated against because of his sexual orientation when he applied for a promotion to lieutenant. Last October, he was awarded almost $20 million by the jury, but chose to settle with the county for $10.25 million.
His lawyers revealed that they were pleased with the outcome.
"Keith is of the highest character, and this litigation journey began when Keith became tired of enduring unlawful treatment," Russ Riggan and Sam Moore, Wildhaber’s attorneys, said in a statement. "In doing so, he endured further and even more intense discrimination and retaliation."
According to the statement, the county implemented a number of significant changes, including Wildhaber’s promotion to lieutenant. He was then appointed as the head of the Diversity and Inclusion unit.
The lawsuit stemmed from a 2014 incident when Wildhaber, then a police sergeant, was performing a security check at a local restaurant. The restaurant owner, who was also on the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners, offered Wildhaber some unsolicited career advice.
According to the lawsuit, John Saracino told Wildhaber, "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."
However, Saracino maintains that the conversation never took place.
Wildhaber was passed up for the promotion, as well as a number of subsequent promotions.
The lawsuit stated that a month after he filed a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, Wildhaber was reassigned from the afternoon shift to a midnight shift in a precinct 27 miles from his home.
He filed another discrimination suit, alleging unlawful retaliation. The lawsuit claimed that he was discriminated against because he "does not fit the stereotypical norms of what a 'male' should be."
The St. Louis County Police Association posted a statement on Facebook after the jury award, stating that contract negotiations with the police department had been delayed because of its "unwillingness to agree to protect our organization's ability to fight against and remedy internal discrimination and retaliation."