Jurors on Friday awarded Keith Wildhaber, an out 22-year veteran of the St. Louis County police, $19 million in damages in a discrimination lawsuit. Wildhaber sued the department in 2017 for discrimination, saying he was told to “tone down his gayness” if he ever wanted a promotion.
Wildhaber was passed over for a promotion 23 times. Now, the chairman of the St. Louis County police board has resigned and another board member said she is being replaced, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports: ‘County Executive Sam Page said Monday in a letter announcing board chairman Roland Corvington’s resignation that the county has “not always done a good job” of addressing the unique challenges in the workplace for women, people of color and LGBT people. Board member Laurie Westfall said Page also told her she’s being replaced.’
Wildhaber told the court he was “sickened” after being told by former St. Louis County Police Board of Commissioners member John Saracino that he needed to “tone down his gayness” if he wanted to be promoted to lieutenant, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported.
Wildhaber also said he was transferred to a precinct that tripled his commute and taken off of afternoon shifts and put on midnight shifts.
Wildhaber’s lawyers “depicted [Chief Jon] Belmar as having a penchant for promoting masculine men that dominates all promotional decisions and said that he will retaliate against anyone who questions them, as Wildhaber did by filing his lawsuit.”
Said Wildhaber: “The police department under Chief Belmar is big on high-testosterone, type A masculine personalities, and my method of policing doesn’t conform with that. This chief is very heavy on promoting the SWAT, masculine type of guys, and I wasn’t doing that.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported: “The jury deliberated about three hours before awarding Wildhaber $1.9 million in actual damages and $10 million in punitive damages on the discrimination allegation. It added $999,000 in actual damages and $7 million in punitive damages for the retaliation allegations.”
Said the jury foreman to reporters: “We wanted to send a message. If you discriminate you are going to pay a big price. … You can’t defend the indefensible.”