CLAYTON, Mo. (AP) — A gay St. Louis County police lieutenant who settled a discrimination lawsuit against the police department for $10.25 million said Friday he is resigning from his job as commander of the department’s new diversity and inclusion unit.
Keith Wildhaber, who is white, said he was the victim of racism in a Facebook post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. He alleged in his suit that he was passed over for promotion 23 times and was told to “tone down” his “gayness.” Jurors awarded him nearly $20 million in October, but he and the county settled for the lower amount in February.
“The dog whispers of a gay, white guy being unable to lead Diversity and Inclusion were loud and clear,” he wrote. “Systemic racism is alive and well. I tried to ignore the background noise, but I’m not battling ESOP and the activists for another 3 years. This afternoon, I notified the department of my decision to transfer back to Patrol.”
Wildhaber couldn’t immediately be reached for comment by the Post-Dispatch on Friday.
Wildhaber had been appointed as commander of the newly created unit in late 2019 by then-Chief Jon Belmar, weeks after a St. Louis County jury found the department had discriminated and retaliated against him because of his sexuality.
But Wildhaber’s appointment had been criticized by the Ethical Society of Police, a group that represents minority officers to address racial discrimination, whose leaders called for a more diverse group of employees to be included in the unit.
The group said in mid-July that it wanted proof that Wildhaber was capable of making “transformative change in racial diversity, inclusion and equity.”
In the Facebook post, Wildhaber wrote that he was qualified to lead the unit and had been enrolled in a national certification program that was postponed until September because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Police spokeswoman Tracy Panus said in an email that the department’s personnel issues “will be handling internally, per Department policy.”
Sgt. Heather Taylor, president of Ethical Society of Police, said the department should “hire someone that is actually qualified for the position … someone from the outside who doesn’t have any affiliation to anyone and are given the authority to make decisions that are not overruled by the police board.”