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St. Louis County reaches agreement to settle discrimination lawsuit with gay lieutenant

But how the county will pay for the settlement remains unclear

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — St. Louis County has reached a preliminary agreement to settle a discrimination lawsuit with a gay police lieutenant, a source told 5 On Your Side.

The deal comes after a jury awarded Lt. Keith Wildhaber nearly $20 million following a five-day trial in October 2019.

The amount of the agreement has not yet been disclosed. The deal is expected to be finalized within the next several days.

Attorneys for the county and Wildhaber arrived at the settlement Thursday with a mediator, retired Judge Glenn Norton. It was the third time the two sides met to discuss a settlement.

Wildhaber left the settlement meeting without comment.

The county has spent about $250,000 for the Lewis Rice firm to handle the mediation and prepare for an appeal had it fallen through.

How the county is paying for the settlement remains unclear and whether the county's insurance companies will cover any of the cost is uncertain. 

Council members have speculated that Page’s administration is planning to use Prop P funds to pay for it – an issue that came to a head Wednesday when County Councilman Tim Fitch asked county counselors to draft an ordinance forbidding it. Fitch said he can’t get a straight answer from Page’s administration on whether it will happen, so he asked for the legislation. 

Page’s spokesman Doug Moore sent a statement to 5 On Your Side Thursday evening.

"We cannot comment on pending litigation. During the mediation process, we are bound by a confidentiality agreement. The council does not have to approve any settlement reached by our county counselor. Until we have an agreement, we cannot speculate on where the funds would come from. However, any settlement amount would likely be paid out over multiple years," Moore emailed.

He previously referred questions to County Counselor Beth Orwick, who responded, “I cannot comment on pending litigation. Additionally, I am bound by a confidentiality agreement, which is standard for parties involved in the mediation process.”

There is additional fallout to come from the case as well.

Wildhaber sued the county in 2017, saying that he had been passed over for promotions because he is gay. He then filed an additional retaliation claim after he was transferred to a different district and a less desirable shift after he filed his lawsuit.

Wildhaber’s attorneys have said in post-trial motions that there were “multiple” offers to settle the case through the years before it ever went to trial. For example, Wildhaber offered in April to settle the case for $850,000.

Jury members deliberated about three hours before awarding Wildhaber $1.9 million in actual damages and $10 million in punitive damages on the discrimination allegation. Jurors added $999,000 in actual damages and $7 million in punitive damages for Wildhaber’s retaliation claim.

In Missouri, half of punitive damages must go to the state’s Tort Crime Victims' Compensation Fund. In Wildhaber's case, that was about $17 million.

The most Wildhaber could have gotten was about $11 million once the state’s portion and attorney’s fees were subtracted.

Also during the five-day trial, witnesses testifying on Wildhaber’s behalf described multiple incidents of discrimination and homophobia against gay people within St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar’s administration.

One of the most dramatic moments in the courtroom included testimony from a woman who said St. Louis County Police Captain Guy Means told her Wildhaber was “too fruity” to get promoted. On the stand, Means denied under oath ever saying that as well as knowing the woman. She returned the next day with photographs of the two of them hugging and smiling together in a photo booth at the event where she said he made the remark.

Means has since been transferred to police headquarters, where Wildhaber now works.

Other officers claimed Wildhaber asked for the transfer to the Jennings Precinct from his Affton Precinct. Belmar said he refused to promote Wildhaber because he was concerned that he tipped off a bookie that he was the subject of an FBI investigation – a claim Wildhaber’s attorneys denied, and noted that Belmar never opened an internal affairs investigation into the matter despite his concerns.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell announced he was opening an investigation into whether any county officers committed perjury on the stand during the trial, but so far, none has been charged.

Page also replaced four of the five members of the St. Louis County Police Board of Commissioners following the verdict. The board is in charge of hiring and firing the police chief.

Judge David Vincent III ordered both sides to enter into mediation following the verdict.

The settlement also avoids the county’s appeal on the matter, in which county counselors were preparing to argue that the verdict should be thrown out because it is legal to discriminate against gay people in Missouri.

Wildhaber has since been promoted to lieutenant and has been put in charge of a newly-formed Diversity Unit.

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. - An officer who won a $19 million discrimination lawsuit against the St. Louis County Police Department in October will head the department's new Diversity Inclusion Unit. The department announced the formation of the unit on Thursday, at the same time that it announced Keith Wildhaber, newly promoted to lieutenant, will serve as the unit's first commander.

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