A St. Louis County cop with 22 years on the force is suing the police department for discrimination.
Sgt. Keith Wildhaber, who is openly gay, claims a former St. Louis County Police Board member told him to "tone down your gayness" if he expected to be promoted.
Wildhaber was asked to be the department’s liaison to the gay community, but he never got the position.
According to Stltoday.com, Wildhaber was ranked 3rd among 26 officers who took a promotions test in February 2014.
In court documents, Wildhaber said he watched as virtually all of his peers were promoted.
The basis of Wildhaber's lawsuit is a conversation he allegedly had with the owner of Bartolino’s restaurant in 2014. Wildhaber visited the restaurant one night and spoke with its owner, John Saracino, who was a member of the department’s civilian police board at the time.
“The command staff has a problem with your sexuality. If you ever want to see a white shirt [get a promotion], you should tone down your gayness," Wildhaber claims Saracino told him.
Saracino denied the allegations when reached by a reporter from Stltoday.com.
On April 1, 2016, Wildhaber filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Missouri Commission on Human Rights.
He claimed he was discriminated against on the basis of a hearsay conversation he allegedly had with Saracino, who left the police board after he asked county Police Chief Jon Belmar to write a letter to a federal judge who was sentencing Saracino’s nephew on a marijuana ring charge.
About a month after he filed the discrimination complaint, Wildhaber was reassigned to a new area about 30 miles from his home.
According to Stltoday.com, a Justice Department report criticizing the St. Louis County police response to Ferguson protests in 2014 suggested the department form a diversity council to help recruit ethnics, gays and transgenders.
The department never acted on the recommendation, according to police spokesman, Sgt. Shawn McGuire.
Former county Police Chief Tim Fitch asked Wildhaber to serve as the department's LGBT's liaison. But Fitch was replaced by Belmar in January 2014, and Wildhaber was not asked again.
Wildhaber took a test to become a lieutenant the next month, but he was not promoted and he remains a sergeant.