A 22-year veteran of the St. Louis County police force is suing the department for discrimination after being told to “tone down” his gayness to secure a promotion.
In a lawsuit filed this January, Sgt. Keith Wildhaber claims that in spite of being marked as “superior” and “exceeding standards” in performance reviews, he’s consistently been looked over for a promotion to lieutenant because of his sexuality.
The suit points to a specific incident in which he was told by a former member of the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners that the only thing blocking him from moving up the ladder was his stereotypically gay demeanor.
“The command staff has a problem with your sexuality. If you ever want to see a white shirt (i.e. get a promotion), you should tone down your gayness,” board member John Saracino allegedly told Wildhaber during a routine business check in 2014.
Saracino, who later resigned from the board after some controversial dealings with Police Chief Jon Belmar, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Wednesday that he “never had a conversation like that” and “would never say anything like that.”
Wildhaber first took action against the discrimination he felt by filing a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Missouri Commission on Human Rights in April 2016.
According to the openly gay sergeant, a month and a half later, he was reassigned from his regular post working afternoons at a precinct near his home to working the midnight shift at one 30 miles from where he lived.
In the midst of all this, the St. Louis County Police Association asked Wildhaber to serve on a committee it was forming to “ensure all of our members are treated equally and fairly in the workplace, which is a bedrock principal of our organization.”
“We have been actively recruiting LGBT members and minority members to serve on steering committees in order to bring forth not only their concerns, but their ideas on how to improve the police association,” Joe Patterson, the organization’s president and a county police detective, explained to the Post-Dispatch.
Wildhaber, who’s been with the department since 1994, had previously served four years in the Army and won a medal of valor in 1998 for rescuing someone from a burning car.