Cop Told To ‘Tone Down His Gayness’ Awarded $20M Discrimination Payout
A police officer who was told to ‘tone down his gayness’ has been awarded nearly $20 million after a lawsuit against his department.
The verdict came after Sergeant Keith Wildhaber sued St. Louis County Police Department in Missouri over claims he was told to hide his sexuality if he wanted to get promoted.
As per the MailOnline, the court heard how a member of the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners allegedly told Wildhaber in February 2014, ‘If you ever want to see a white shirt [get a promotion], you should tone down your gayness.’
On 23 separate occasions Wildhaber was overlooked when it came to promotions, and he says he was even transferred against his wishes to a precinct more than half an hour’s drive away after he complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The jury awarded Wildhaber $1.9 million in actual damages and $10 million in punitive damages on the discrimination claim after a week-long trial in which the police department was accused of having an anti-LGBTQ+ culture and retaliation.
He was awarded an extra $999,000 in actual damages and $7 million in punitive damages for the retaliation claim, which according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was designed to ‘send a message’.
The foreman of the jury told the publication:
We wanted to send a message. If you discriminate you are going to pay a big price. You can’t defend the indefensible.
Now, county officials have revealed they plan to change the police department’s leadership.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said in a statement:
The time for leadership changes has come and change must start at the top.
‘While we are extremely embarrassed of the alleged actions of some of our Department’s senior commanders, we look forward to the healing process that can begin to take place now that this has been heard in open court,’ the county’s police union said in a statement.
Wildhaber first joined the police as a security officer in 1994 and says he was designated the police department’s liaison to the gay community, however he was told if he ever wanted to be promoted, he would need to change his mannerisms.
In 1997, he became a fully-fledged police officer and rose through the ranks, working as a patrolman and then a detective, until 2011 when he was promoted to the rank of sergeant.
When Wildhaber felt he was being overlooked for a promotion due to his sexuality, he filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Missouri Commission on Human Rights.
Six weeks later he was moved from his afternoon shifts to the midnight slot some 30 miles from his home, which he believes was a direct response to his lawsuit.
It’s hoped his lawsuit will teach a valuable lesson in that no one should ever be discriminated against because of their sexuality.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence, contact the LGBT Foundation on 0345 3 30 30 30, 9am until 9pm Monday to Friday, and 10am until 6pm Saturday, or email [email protected]