Story at a glance

  • Keith Wildhaber sued the St. Louis county and police department for discriminatory treatment for being gay.
  • Wildhaber alleged that he was passed over for promotion up to 23 times and was verbally abused.
  • He offered to settle, but the county took it to trial, resulting in a spectacular loss.

St. Louis County has agreed to a settlement payout of $10.25 million with a gay police lieutenant who alleges he was passed over for promotion up to 23 times and was told to “tone down his gayness,” according to an Associated Press (AP) story.

Now a lieutenant, the plaintiff Keith Wildhaber finalized the settlement as the St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar announced his retirement from the force. 

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Wildhaber was originally awarded $20 million by jurors after they learned of the discrimination and verbal abuse, in addition to Wildhaber being transferred to a precinct farther from his home in retaliation for filing a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

Wildhaber reportedly settled so as to keep a larger share of the award. 

Earlier in April, Wildhaber actually offered a settlement of $850,000 and a long-awaited promotion to lieutenant. The county’s lawyers did not accept this and went to trial with the defense that the Missouri Human Rights Act does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. 

The county lost and will now pay and additional $9.4 million. 

County Executive Sam Page said the lawsuit recognizes what Wildhaber went through in the police department, and that “it’s important to recognize that this sends a message to everyone in county government and to all of our employers in the St. Louis region, that discrimination will not be tolerated.”

Page explained that the county will finance the settlement costs through a bond sale and make installed payments over a period of time. He said that this will likely run taxpayers $500,000 to $600,000 while the county figures out if insurance will cover the expenses. 

Page commented that “this is an opportunity for our department to move forward and to continue to make the progress that has been made and to stay focused on my ... goals for our police department, which is first to keep us safe and second to respect all people.”

Published on Feb 11, 2020