Russ Riggan and Sam Moore obtained a $19,970,000.00 jury verdict against St. Louis County, Missouri in a lawsuit alleging unlawful sex stereotyping and retaliation pursuant to the Missouri Human Rights Act. The plaintiff, Sergeant Keith Wildhaber, is a twenty-plus year employee of the St. Louis County Police Department. In a span of over five years, Sergeant Wildhaber applied for a promotion to the position of Lieutenant more than twenty times, and was passed over (and denied the promotion) each time despite being a top candidate based on his employer’s own promotion process and metrics. Sergeant Wildhaber is a gay man, and it was revealed at trial that multiple representatives of the Defendant made statements to and about him suggesting that he needed to “tone down his gayness” if he ever wanted a promotion. Sergeant Wildhaber was also told by a member of the Board of Police Commissioners that “the Command Staff had a problem with [his] sexuality.” At trial, Mr. Riggan and Mr. Moore also put on compelling evidence of an anti-gay bias/culture in the St. Louis County Police Department.
After asserting his rights and filing a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Missouri Commission on Human Rights in April 2016, the Defendant retaliated against Sergeant Wildhaber by involuntarily transferring him from an assignment at a precinct very close to his home to a very undesirable precinct across town to work the midnight shift. In addition to this retaliatory transfer, the Chief of Police admitted in deposition and at trial that Sergeant Wildhaber’s filing of a charge of discrimination and subsequent lawsuit had a negative effect on Wildhaber’s continued efforts to be promoted.
The jury deliberated for about two and a half hours. After the verdict, the foreman of the jury and Sergeant Wildhaber met in the hallway and hugged. The jury foreman told our client that he would proudly serve with him any day (referencing an award Sergeant Wildhaber had previously received for pulling a victim out of a burning vehicle). The jury foreman also spoke to the press following trial, stating that the St. Louis County Police Department has a “systematic problem” and “We wanted to send a message. If you discriminate, you’re going to pay a big price. Bullying doesn’t work. Retaliation doesn’t work.”
Following the trial, Mr. Riggan and Mr. Moore issued the following statement:
We are ecstatic for our client, and it has been an honor and a privilege to have been part of this historic verdict. This has been a long and difficult road for Keith. His bravery and courage in standing up for what is right should be an inspiration for employees everywhere. Justice was served in this trial, and no client could be more deserving than Keith. The jury acted as the conscience of the community and spoke loud and clear in its verdict. We sincerely hope that this matter is concluded so that our client can have the closure he deserves.
The case is styled Keith Wildhaber v. Saint Louis County, Missouri.
On behalf of Riggan Law Firm, LLC, we would like to congratulate Russ and Sam for protecting the rights, reputation, and best interests of our client and ensuring no one is above the law—not even those in charge of enforcing it. With more than three decades of combined experience, our firm is dedicated to safeguarding the workplace rights of employees.