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St. Louis County sergeant told to tone down ‘gayness’ to lead diversity unit

A gay St. Louis County police sergeant who was awarded nearly $20 million in a discrimination lawsuit has been promoted to lieutenant and picked as the leader of a newly created diversity and inclusion unit.

Police Chief Jon Belmar said in a news release Thursday night announcing the unit that the department “must demonstrate to our officers and to our community that we prioritize diversity and inclusion.”

The announcement comes after a jury ruled in October in favor of Keith Wildhaber, who says he was passed over for promotion 23 times and was told to “tone down” his “gayness.”

Attorneys for both sides have agreed to mediation in hopes of reaching a settlement that would avoid a lengthy appeals process. But Wildhaber’s attorney, Russ Riggan, and County Executive Sam Page’s spokesman, Doug Moore, agreed that the promotion was not part of potential settlement.

Riggan described it as “hopefully a crucial first step for the county in making necessary changes to its culture in order to better serve the citizens.” He said he hoped mediation would “achieve a fair resolution that allows the parties to put an end to this difficult and long-running litigation battle.”

Wildhaber will report to Belmar, leading a unit tasked with strengthening current diversity programs and implementing new measures that “will provide confidence to the community we serve, and those within our department who provide such service and protection,” the department said.

Since the verdict, Page has remade the county’s Board of Police Commissioners, naming replacements to four of the five posts. He said in a tweet that the board transformation started the change and that creating the new unit is the next step.

“Appointment of a well-qualified leader whose perspective is informed by life experiences demonstrates the county’s commitment to progress,” Page said.