Gay American police officer awarded $31 million after being told to 'tone down the gayness'

Keith Wildhaber.
Keith Wildhaber. Photo credit: St Louis Police Department.

A gay American police officer has been awarded nearly US$20 million (NZ$31.5 million) after being told to "tone down the gayness" and being passed over for promotion 23 times.

In 2017, St. Louis police sergeant Keith Wildhaber filed a lawsuit against his police department after being told by senior officer John Saracino in 2014 that if he wanted to be promoted he had to "tone down the gayness". Saracino denied the allegation.

The court has heard over the last week that another police captain called the sergeant "fruity". A witness said she was told Wildhaber would not be promoted as he was "way too out there with his gayness", the BBC reports.

He was passed over for promotion dozens of times, despite having positive feedback about his performance.

After making a complaint about how he was being treated, the police officer alleged he was reassigned to work on a midnight shift at a station further away from his home.

"I was sickened by it," Wildhaber said during the court case.

"I think I said 'I can't believe we are having this conversation in 2014.' It was devastating to hear."

The jury found on Friday that Wildhaber had been discriminated against and was also the victim of retaliation due to how he was treated after making a complaint. He was awarded US$19.8 million.

St. Louis County executive Sam Page released a statement on Monday (local time) saying the police department must be somewhere "every community member and every officer is respected and treated with dignity".

"Employment decisions in the department must be made on merit and who is best for the job."

Page said it was time for leadership changes in the police with announcements about new appointments "forthcoming".