Police officer told to ‘tone down his gayness’ to get a promotion awarded $19m in damages

Sgt. Keith Wildhaber, a police officer within Missouri's St. Louis County Police Department

A gay police officer has won $19 million in damages from his employer, after he was told to “tone down” his sexuality.

Sgt. Keith Wildhaber, an officer within Missouri’s St. Louis County Police Department, had filed a lawsuit in 2017 after he was passed over for promotion to lieutenant despite 15 years’ service.

Police officer was told his sexuality is a ‘problem’

According to Wildhaber’s lawsuit, a member of the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners had told him: “The command staff has a problem with your sexuality. If you ever want to see a white shirt [be promoted], you should tone down your gayness.”

The officer alleged he was passed over 23 times for promotion, and also said that when he filed a discrimination complaint, he was transferred in retaliation.

Sgt. Keith Wildhaber, an officer within Missouri's St. Louis County Police Department

Sgt. Keith Wildhaber, an officer within Missouri’s St. Louis County Police Department

On Friday, a jury in St. Louis County Circuit Court sided with Wildhaber, after a hearing that saw testimony from senior police officials repeatedly contradicted by other evidence.

According to the St Louis Post-Dispatch, a police captain denied having ever met one witness who accused him of making homophobic remarks about Wildhaber, before photos emerged of them in a “friendly embrace.”

Police force will see ‘changes’ after discrimination case

County Executive Sam Page said in a statement: “Our police department must be a place where every community member and every officer is respected and treated with dignity.

“Employment decisions in the department must be made on merit and who is best for the job. ”

Page said that there would be “leadership changes” on the police force, starting with “the appointment of new members to the police board, which oversees the police chief.”

The St. Louis County Police Union said: “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.”

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