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St. Louis Police Officer Wins $19 Million Verdict for Discrimination

Sgt. Keith Wildhaber is a police officer in St. Louis County. He testified in his jury trial that he was passed over for promotions at least 23 times and was transferred to another location after filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  He believed he was being discriminated against because of his sexual orientation.

One witness testified that the captain had called Wildhaber “fruity” during an event they both attended. This same captain told the witness that Wildhaber would not be promoted because he was “way too out there with his gayness and he needed to tone it down if he wanted a white shirt.” Command staff wears white shirts as part of their uniform. The police captain denied the allegations, claiming he did not know the witness. However, the witness was able to provide a photograph with the three of them together, and in one photo the police captain was hugging the witness. The police chief testified that Wildhaber’s lawsuit was a factor in denying him promotions, purportedly because he knew the allegations Wildhaber was making were untrue. The police department pointed to some performance issues as the basis for its decisionmaking about Wildhaber and denied punishing Wildhaber for his sexual orientation.

The jury awarded Wildhaber $1.9 million in actual damages and $10 million in punitive damages for discrimination; $999,000 in actual damages and $7 million in punitive damages for retaliation. The jury deliberated just three hours after a week-long trial. St. Louis County is considering its options but has promised to make changes to the police board that oversees the chief.