Labor & Employment Law Daily St. Louis County will pay $10.25M to resolve gay police officer’s discrimination, retaliation claims
Friday, February 14, 2020

St. Louis County will pay $10.25M to resolve gay police officer’s discrimination, retaliation claims

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

At trial on his discriminatory non-promotion and retaliation claims, a state jury awarded him $2,970,000 in actual and $17,000,000 in punitive damages, for a total award of $19,970,000.

After a St. Louis, Missouri, state court jury awarded a gay policeman nearly $20 million in actual and punitive damages on his on his sex discrimination non-promotion and retaliation claims under the Missouri Human Rights Law, St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page announced that the county has settled the discrimination lawsuit for $10.25 million.

Page said in a statement that “no one should be made to feel less than by their employer because of who they love. Discrimination is not the path forward for us as people, nor is it the way we should get ahead as a county.”

The County Executive also the $10.25M settlement a “fair compromise” to both the officer and the county. “It serves as compensation for what [the officer] experienced, but it also saved the County at least $11M.”

Jury verdict. In October 2019, the officer prevailed at trial. On his sex discrimination claim, the jury found in his favor and awarded him $1,980,000 in actual damages and $10,000,000 in punitive damages. On his retaliation claim, the jury again found in favor of the officer, awarding him $990,000 in actual damages and $7,000,000 punitive damages, bringing the total award to $19,970,000.

Symptom of pervasive discrimination. Page called the case “a symptom of the discrimination that is pervasive in our culture” and that it can’t be blamed on any one person or department. Nonetheless, it is “a significant message for the County, and all of us who care about fair treatment,” according to Page. “Discrimination isn’t always obvious. It is even more likely to be quiet and insidious.”

“My administration has made it clear that discrimination—of any kind—will not be tolerated,” Page stressed. “We are consistently working toward policies and legislation that turn these values into action.”

The lawsuit, Wildhaber v. St. Louis County, Missouri, was filed in Circuit Court of Saint Louis County, Missouri, 21st Judicial Circuit; the case is No. 17SL-CC00133.

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