A US jury has awarded $20 million ($AU29 million) in damages to a Missouri police officer repeatedly denied a promotion for his “gayness”.
St Louis County Police Sgt Keith Wildhaber filed the discrimination lawsuit after he was denied a promotion numerous times and told to “tone down your gayness.”
The officer wanted a promotion to lieutenant when he was told by the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners, “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,” one board member said, according to the St Louis Dispatch.
Wildhaber’s captain also called him “fruity” and told a friend he was “way too out there with his gayness and he needed to tone it down” to get a promotion, the jury was told.
The officer described the comments as “sickening” and he claimed he was denied a promotion 23 times.
Then, after Wildhaber complained, his bosses reassigned him to a midnight shift about 27 miles from his home.
“We wanted to send a message,” the head juror said outside court.
“If you discriminate, you are going to pay a big price… You can’t defend the indefensible.”
Calls for police department heads to step down
Wildhaber’s attorney Sam Moore said in a statement that the officer was “ecstatic” about the results.
“This has been a long and difficult road for Keith,” Moore said.
“His bravery and courage in standing up for what is right should be an inspiration for employees everywhere.”
County officials in Missouri now want the police department heads to step down after the case.
“Our police department must be a place where every community member and every officer is respected and treated with dignity,” County Executive Sam Page said.
“Employment decisions in the department must be made on merit and who is best for the job.”
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