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Jury Awards Millions To Missouri Police Officer Who Was Told To ‘Tone Down Your Gayness’

St. Louis County Missouri

St. Louis County Police Sgt. Keith Wildhaber applied to be promoted as a lieutenant but had been passed over.

His suspicion as to why was confirmed when he received unsolicited advice to “tone down” his “gayness” from a restaurant owner who knew about Wildhaber’s request for promotion.

According to a 2017 lawsuit, Wildhaber was performing a security sweep in a restaurant in 2014 when its owner, John Saracinowho happened to be on the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners at the time—told him:

“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.”

A “white shirt” is a slang term for supervising officers, such as sergeants and lieutenants.

 

CNN said Saracino denied allegations of the conversation.

Wildhaber, who joined the department in 1994 and previously served four years in the armed forces, did not get promoted and had been passed up numerous times because he believes he didn’t “conform to the department’s standards of gender norms.”

He filed a discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Missouri Commission on Human Rights in 2016.

A month after filing the complaint, Wildhaber alleged he was retaliated against when he was reassigned from working afternoon shifts at the Affton precinct near his home to a location 27 miles further away in Jennings to work overnight shifts.

So he filed a second discrimination charge for the retaliation.

On Friday, after three hours of deliberation, a jury awarded Wildhaber with $1.9 million in actual damages and $10 million in punitive damages for discrimination.

The jury also added $990,000 in actual damages and $7 million in punitive damages for the retaliation.

A jury foreman identified as “juror No. 4,” told reporters why the jury arrived at their decision after the weeklong trial.

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

Wildhaber’s attorneys were “ecstatic” over the decision and issued a statement, saying:

“His bravery and courage in standing up for what is right should be an inspiration for employees everywhere. Justice was served in this trial, and no client could be more deserving than Keith.”

“The jury acted as the conscience of the community and spoke loud and clear in its verdict.”

KSDK reported that St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said changes are coming to the St. Louis County Police Department in light of the settlement.

“The current police board and current police chief have served the county faithfully for years. The time for leadership changes has come and change must start at the top.”

If you feel you are being discriminated against in the workplace based on race, color, age, disability, or sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), you can file a Charge of Discrimination through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website.

The EEOC requires that you must file a charge within 45 days of an occurrence or of when you became aware of the occurrence and before filing a lawsuit for unlawful discrimination.

EEOC cannot accept discrimination charges over the phone, but you can get the process started by calling 1-800-669-4000 to discuss your situation.

This shirt featuring a quote from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is available here.

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Written by Koh Mochizuki

Koh Mochizuki is a New York-based actor and writer. Originally hailing from Los Angeles, he received his B.A. in English literature and is fluent in Japanese. Disney parks are his passion, and endless cups of coffee are a necessity. Instagram: kohster Twitter: @kohster1