ST. LOUIS — Attorneys for Keith Wildhaber said the gay St. Louis County police lieutenant’s “bravery and courage should be an inspiration for employees everywhere,” according to a statement they released on his behalf Wednesday.
Russ Riggan and Sam Moore of the Kirkwood-based Riggan Law Firm issued the joint statement Wednesday – two days after their client settled a nearly $20 million jury verdict with St. Louis County for $10.25 million.
The settlement requires the county to pay him $7 million within 60 days and the remaining by Jan. 31, 2021.
A jury awarded the money to the 47-year-old police veteran following a five-day trial in October 2019, in which witnesses accused Chief Jon Belmar’s administration of discrimination against gay people and refusing to promote Wildhaber because of his sexual orientation.
“This settlement marks the end of a long and difficult road for our client,” Riggan and Moore wrote. “Keith is of the highest character, and this litigation journey began when Keith became tired of enduring unlawful treatment and chose to stand up for what he thought was right.
“In doing so, he endured further and even more intense discrimination and retaliation.”
The attorneys added that they are “pleased,” with the significant changes that the county has made following the verdict, specifically four new appointees to the Police Board of Commissioners, Belmar’s promotion of Wildhaber to lieutenant and creation of the Diversity and Inclusion Unit Wildhaber now leads and the county's decision to settle.
In the statement, the attorneys said they are "all steps in the right direction."
The statement added that there is still more work to be done.
“We are hopeful that the county continues to take a hard look at its past practices, culture and the circumstances that led to this result.”
Full statement below
Belmar announced his retirement hours before the county released the settlement amount Monday.
The amount is about five times more than what the county could have settled for had it honored Wildhaber’s original ask of less than $200,000, a source familiar with the negotiations told 5 On Your Side. He offered to settle the case again for $850,000 in April 2019, but the county never responded to the offer.
The county's insurance companies will not be paying for the settlement, at least initially.
Wildhaber’s settlement agreement addressed the issue.
It forbids Wildhaber from going after any money the county may get from its insurance companies for his case in the future. It states that the county intends to “pursue litigation or otherwise the maximum amounts that are recoverable from the county’s insurers.”
In a press conference Monday, County Executive Sam Page said the settlement will be paid for through the county's general revenue.
Page said the impact on county government will be limited because county government will be able to stretch the payment out by using bonds.
Page referred most of the questions about the county's plan to pay for the settlement to the county's administrator, who was not at the press conference.
But he said he estimates the impact to the county will be between $500,000 and $600,000 annually for the duration of the bond -- which could last between 10 and 30 years.
The County Council must approve the sale of the bonds.