Police officer told to “tone down” his “gayness” awarded $19 million in discrimination lawsuit

Sgt. Keith Wildhaber

A St. Louis County police sergeant who said the department passed him over for promotions because he is gay was awarded $19 million in a discrimination lawsuit on Friday. Sgt. Keith Wildhaber, who filed the lawsuit against the St. Louis County Police Department in 2017, said he was told to “tone down your gayness” if he wanted to be promoted to lieutenant.

Wildhaber’s lawsuit details a 2014 incident during which he spoke to a member of the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners about a promotion.

John Saracino, who was on the board at the time, allegedly told Wildhaber that the command staff had a problem with his sexuality. “If you ever want to see a white shirt [i.e. get a promotion], you should tone down your gayness,” Saracino said, according to the lawsuit.

The discrimination suit went to trial last week and multiple officers, including Chief John Belmar, took the stand. On Friday, a jury awarded Wildhaber $19 million.

There are now calls for changes in the department’s leadership, KMOV-TV reports. “I’m pretty appalled what came to light last week about our St. Louis County Police Department,” said local council member Lisa Clancy.

County Executive Sam Page wrote in a statement that new members should be appointed to the police board. “[The] time for leadership changes has come and change must start at the top,” Page’s statement read. “An announcement on those appointments is forthcoming.”


Willie Bisson

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