Officer Told To ‘Tone Down’ Gayness Settles Suit For $10.25M

Kevin Mwanza
Written by Kevin Mwanza
Police officer
A gay police officer in St. Louis County was awarded a $10.25M settlement for discrimination hours after his police chief announced his retirement. In this Aug. 10, 2015, file photo, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar speaks during a news conference in Clayton, Mo. Belmar announced his retirement Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, after leading the department, one of Missouri’s largest with more than 1,300 employees, since January 2014. Image: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File

Keith Wildhaber, a gay police lieutenant who was told to “tone down” his gayness and passed for promotion more than 20 times received a $10.25 million settlement from St. Louis County.

However, jurors had awarded Wildhaber nearly $20 million in October 2019, but each side had a reason to negotiate because Wildhaber could have kept a large share of the award by settling, according to Time.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the agreement was finalized hours after St. Louis County police chief Jon Belmar announced his retirement.

Belmar’s leadership was called into question after the verdict, with Lisa Clancy, a democratic councilwoman, urging him to resign. Belmar’s retirement was, however, not a condition of the settlement.

Belmar promoted Wildhaber to lieutenant in December 2019, making him the head of a new diversity unit.

“This lawsuit acknowledges what Lt. Wildhaber survived in the police department and lets us move forward as a county,” county executive Sam Page said.

“I think it’s important to recognize that this sends a message to everyone in county government and to all of our employers in the St. Louis region, that discrimination will not be tolerated.”

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In April 2019, Wildhaber offered to settle the case for $850,000 plus a promotion to Lieutenant but the county refused his offer and decided to go to trial under the legal stance that the Human Rights Act does not bar discrimination against gay people.

After the trial, the jury foreman in the Wildhaber case told reporters that they wanted a big verdict to send a message. Page says that the message was received.