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Gay Missouri officer to finish career on ‘my terms’ after suit

A St. Louis County police lieutenant who was passed over for promotion 23 times said he has no plans to leave the department after he settled a discrimination lawsuit for $10.25 million.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Keith Wildhaber said Wednesday that he was happy with his new job as commander of the department’s new diversity and inclusion unit, which he was named to after jurors awarded him $20 million in October. Both sides entered into negotiation talks about the verdict, reaching a settlement  this week.

“I’ve got 26 years in. I want to finish my career on my terms.”

Wildhaber, 47, said he was focused on learning how to promote diversity in the department and has no special plans for the windfall, other than to take care of family. The county agreed to pay Wildhaber $7 million within 60 days, and an additional $3.25 million by Jan. 31, 2021. After his lawyers are paid, he will clear $6.5 million.

Wildhaber said he had been out as a gay man for about half of his career. “There was a lot of time I just stayed in the closet, really for personal reasons.

“I had never even told my own family that I was gay,” he said. “My mother found out when I filed the lawsuit and it made it onto the TV. She told me … she had woke up and she was making her coffee and she saw my picture on the TV and thought, oh my God. Something happened to him last night and they hadn’t called her yet. She said the story came on and it was a whole lot about nothing. So that was her way to tell me that she was OK … that I was gay.”

The settlement was finalized hours after Jon Belmar announced his retirement as police chief. After the verdict, Belmar’s leadership was called into question, although County Executive Sam Page said Belmar’s retirement was not a condition of the settlement.

Wildhaber said he wishes Belmar well. He said the police force had some rebuilding to do, although not everyone in the department agreed there was a problem.

“There are some who think there weren’t any issues at all in the department, that everything was great,” he said. “And there are others … who felt marginalized.”

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