A routine stop for St. Louis County Police Sgt. Keith Wildhaber, who at the time was applying for a promotion within the department, didn’t quite go so routine one afternoon in 2014. Sgt. Wildhaber checked in on a local restaurant and while there spoke with its owner, John Saracino, who was a member of the county’s Board of Police Commissioners. During their exchange, Mr. Saracino told Keith, “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.” While being questioned by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper, Saracino has, of course, denied this claim stating, “I never had a conversation like that. I would never say anything like that. That’s not me.”
Sgt. Wildhaber has over 20 years of experience with the force. He has a clean disciplinary record and several strong performance reviews in addition to receiving a medal of valor in 1998 for saving someone from a burning car. While applying for a lieutenant position, Wildhaber took a written test and underwent an assessment where he generated scores that landed him as #3 out of 26 candidates. He was placed into a group with 9 other stellar performers who have all since been promoted except for Wildhaber and one other officer that may have issues that have stalled his advancement. After the second round of candidates were sorted into a top group, Wildhaber again ranked at #3 and since February 2015 has “continued to be passed over for multiple promotions,” per the suit.
Sgt. Wildhaber filed a discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Missouri Commission on Human Rights in April 2016, and by May he was reassigned from afternoon shifts to midnight shifts in another precinct roughly 30 miles from his house. Mr. Saracino, the restaurant owner, resigned from the civilian police board after he asked the St. Louis police chief to write a letter of recommendation on behalf of his nephew to a judge who was set to sentence him for his involvement in a marijuana drug ring.
Under his current lawsuit filed in January against St. Louis County, Wildhaber is seeking a jury trial and aims to fight for compensatory damages for lost wages and back pay due to lack of promotion in addition to punitive damages.