The Missouri police officer, Sgt. Keith Wildhaber of the St. Louis County Police Department, has served the force for 22 long years. Before he joined the St. Louis County Police Department in 1994, he was a part of the U.S. Army for 4 years.
After 5 years in the detective bureau, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant in 2011. The police department also requested him to act as the bridge between the LGBT community and the department, as their representative.
Despite being experienced, having an exemplary work performance, receiving extremely positive feedback, and ranking 3rd among 26 candidates in an internal testing process during the application time in early 2014, Sgt. Wildhaber’s promotion has been turned down 23 times over a period of 5 and a half years.
During a routine patrol check on local restaurants, Wildhaber claimed to have run into John Saracino, the owner of Bartolino’s, who was a member of St. Louis County Police Board at the time. He acknowledged that he was aware of Wildhaber’s latest promotion application.
He conveyed that the higher authorities had issues with his sexuality, and said that if he expected to be promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, he should ‘tone down his gayness.‘
However, when questioned by the St. Louis Dispatch, Saracino denied the allegations, saying that he never had any such conversation.
Devastated by the comment, Sgt. Wildhaber filed a discrimination lawsuit in January 2017 against the St. Louis Police County Department, as he was unjustly denied promotion based on sex stereotyping.
The lawsuit claims that Wildhaber has a clean disciplinary record, exceptional performance reviews, and a good track record to support his promotion, but hasn’t been promoted despite all that.
When the department’s spokesman, Officer Ben Granda, was questioned on the matter he declined to comment. He said that the department’s main aim was to recruit and train individuals that qualified for the position based on merit, without any kind of discrimination.
Even though the police department denied the allegations of discrimination against Sgt. Wildhaber, after the complaint was filed, the sergeant was shifted to a different station which was situated away from his home and was assigned to work in the midnight shift. This led him to file another charge of being a victim of retaliation.
Sgt. Wildhaber’s attorney, Russell Riggan, refused to comment to the media before the case was presented to the jury, as he believed that the petition was enough to tell the story on its own. It alleged that the police department’s expectations on the basis of gender were at least one of the factors contributing to pass over Sgt. Wildhaber’s promotion.
After one week of trial at the St. Louis County Circuit Court, last week the jury gave its decision in favor of Sgt. Wildhaber, concluding that he had been discriminated against on the basis of his sexuality, and was also victimized by retaliation after he filed the lawsuit.
Sgt. Wildhaber was awarded about $20 million as compensation. Following the decision, the county executive also promised to bring change in higher management in the police board.
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