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Cop says he was told ‘tone down your gayness’ to get promotion

The veteran Missouri police officer has served for 22 years but has now filed a lawsuit against his employer

Cop says he was told ‘tone down your gayness’ to get promotion
Sgt Keith Wildhaber of Missouri

A police officer in St Louis, Missouri, has filed a lawsuit against St Louis County police alleging discrimination.

Sgt. Keith Wildhaber is a police veteran with 22 years of service behind him. Prior to this he was in the military. He filed the lawsuit last month, but it has only just been picked up by local media.

His lawsuit claims that he has been turned down for promotion on multiple occasions.

It says his regular work assessments have said his performance ‘exceeds standards’ or is ‘superior’.

Despite this, he was turned down when he applied for the position of Lieutenant in 2014.

‘Problem with your sexuality’

He says that he was friendly with the owner of a local restaurant, Bartolino’s, John Saracino, who also happened to be a civilian member of St Louis Police County Board of Commissioners at the time.

The lawsuit claims Saracino told Wildhaber, during a visit to his restaurant, that, ‘The command staff has a problem with your sexuality. If you ever want to see a white shirt [i.e. promotion], you should tone down your gayness.’

Saracino denies this, telling the St Louis Post Dispatch earlier this week: ‘I never had a conversation like that. I would never say anything like that. That’s not me.’

Wildhaber was shortlisted for Lieutenant position, alongside eight others, after coming #3 out of #26 in an assessment process. However, of the nine shortlisted, only Wildhaber and one other were not promoted to Lieutenant.

As two Lieutenant positions remain unfilled, the department once again sought candidates in 2015. Wildhaber re-applied but was again turned down for promotion, despite ranking highly in written assessments.

The lawsuit alleges the police department passed him over for promotion because he does ‘not conform to the County’s gender-based norms, expectations and/or preferences.’

He is claiming discrimination based on his gender/sex.

Working the midnight shift

Wildhaber first took his claim of discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Missouri Commission on Human Rights Commission in 2016.

When he did this, his employer transferred him to work a different precinct and switched him from afternoon duty to midnight shift. The new precinct was approximately 27 miles from his home (his former precinct was much closer).

The lawsuit claims this ‘undesirable shift’ in an ‘undesirable location’ was a retaliatory measure against Wildhaber because of his discrimination complaint.

In January, the Missouri Commission on Human Rights Commission ruled he had a right to sue his employer.

Approached for comment, a spokesperson for St Louis County Police told GSN, ‘This matter involves pending litigation; therefore, we cannot comment.

‘What we can say is that our main focus in recruiting and developing employees is looking for excellent individuals, no matter what their status, race, religion, sexual preference, political belief, or aspiration is.’

GSN has reached out to Wildhaber, via attorney Russell C. Riggan, for comment. Riggan sent over the following statement: ‘It is our firm’s practice not to comment on pending litigation. Until the case goes before a jury, we will allow the Petition to speak for itself.

‘Our system of justice provides the right to a fair trial, and we do not wish to compromise our client’s rights by commenting to the media.’

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