A banking executive who was fired by his family “because he is gay” has been awarded $3.5 million ($A4.6m) – the largest payout in Minnesota history to one person for sexual orientation discrimination.
When Stephen Habberstad, 61, came out in his late 50s, his family did not take the news well – to put it mildly.
He landed in a divorce court, on the outer with his relatives and was fired from his job into the bargain.
Following his dismissal, his relatives – many of whom are on the board of the business – claimed he was asked to leave for financial reasons.
However, Habberstad claimed it was because of his sexual orientation and in a ruling handed down late last month, a judge agreed.
“The truth is, Stephen Habberstad was terminated because he is gay,” Judge Joseph Bueltel ruled.
Habberstad was originally the majority shareholder in the family-owned Country Bankers Inc. – a successful holding company in south-eastern Minnesota.
As part of his divorce settlement with his ex-wife, he gave her a portion of his shares – resulting in him losing majority control.
Subsequently, his ex-wife and sister united to take charge of the boardroom, ultimately culminating in Habberstad’s dismissal for his decision to come out.
The court also heard that an aunt of Habberstad’s – a fellow shareholder in the business – had said he, “needed to get his act together, get back in the closet and get back to work”.
Not only that, but Habberstad’s sister sent an e-mail to his adult children, telling them: “Your dad has lived a lie for years and years and it has spilled over into the lives of his family causing a lot of heartache.”
Habberstad said he didn’t realise his sister harboured those kind of feelings.
“It really fries me… I’m the same person today that I was 25 years ago,” he said.
But now Habberstad says he simply wants to get on with his life.
“I’m still trying to get over this. It had nothing to do with how our business was run,” he said. “I was fired for being gay, and it’s just totally wrong.”