A veteran St. Louis cop with over 22 years in the polic department was told that he needed to tone down his gayness in order to be considered for a promotion. Sgt. Keith Wildhabe joined the St. Louis Police Department in 1994; he had spent four years in the U.S. army prior to joining the police department. In 2011, Wildhabe was promoted to sergeant.
However, Wildhabe wanted to keep moving up in the police department. He wished to move up and become a lieutenant. Regardless of his clean disciplinary history, his strong resume, and his exceptional performance reviews, Wildhabe was not promoted to lieutenant.
According to Wildhabe, he was passed over for a promotion more than twenty-three times. He also claimed that he was punished with a transfer when he complained about unfairly being denied the promotion. Wildhabe filed a claim against the police department for discrimination and retaliation. The defense claimed that Wildhabe’s “behavior, mannerism, and/or appearance do not fit the stereotypical norms of what a ‘male’ should be,” according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit also states that the police department’s gender-based expectations contributed to the denial of the promotion.
The jury deliberated for three hours before reaching a conclusion. The jury foreman stated that “[they] wanted to send a message – if you discrimination you are going to pay a big price.” Wildhaber was awarded a total of $20 million categorized into the following:
- $1.9 million in actual damages and $10 million in punitive damages for discrimination
- $999,000 in actual damages and $7 million in punitive damages for retaliation
The outcome of this employment claim is one of the most important in the fight against workplace discrimination.
Discrimination and Retaliation is Illegal
According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against both applicants and existing employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act also makes it illegal for employers to retaliate against applicants or employees after they assert their rights as granted by the law. This law offers protections from discrimination in compensation, benefits, assignments, promotions, hiring, firing, and discipline.
Nothing in the law offers protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Because of that, many states have separate laws that offer additional protections. However, there are 30 states without any laws that protect employees against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Missouri, the state in which a St. Louis cop recently won $20 million, is one of these states.
How did Sgt. Keith Wildhabe win his lawsuit for discrimination and retaliation against the police department if they aren’t any laws that protect Missouri employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation? Although there is no law, a Missouri Court of Appeals decided that any form of discrimination based on a sex stereotype (gender norms) falls under sexual discrimination. In the words of Judge Anthony Gabbert: “if [an] employer mistreats a male employee because the employer deems the employee insufficiently masculine, it is [irrelevant] whether the male employee is gay or straight. The prohibition against sex discrimination extends to all employees, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.”
California Workplace Discrimination and Retaliation
Although the incident discussed above occurred in Missouri, it is an important reminder that all employees have rights – rights that are protected by law. Unlike Missouri, California does have a state law that protects employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Specifically, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) offers protection from workplace discrimination on the basis of race, color, ancestry, national origin, religion, creed, age, disability, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, medical condition, genetic information, marital statute and military/veteran status.
FEHA overlaps with some of the protections already granted by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act; however, it also establishes additional protections, including protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This also applies to retaliation – employees cannot be retaliated against for complaining about the discrimination that they are suffering.
Your Right to Pursue a Claim
If you suffer workplace discrimination, you could pursue a claim against your employer. Employment claims are not like any other claims, however. Employment claims must first go though the appropriate agency before being pursued in civil court. On the federal level, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) oversees employment laws and handles employment claims. On the state level, there are similar employment agencies that handle employment laws and claims. Many states have state-level employment agencies. In California, the state-level employment agency is the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Before taking any sort of legal action (like filing a lawsuit against an employer), employees that have been the victims of discrimination or retaliation must file claims with an employment agency. The employment agency investigates and reaches a conclusion. The employment agency can file a lawsuit against the employer or can grant the employee the right to sue (the right to file a civil lawsuit). To ensure that you take the appropriate action after being the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, it is essential that you seek legal assistance immediately.
Your Right to Recover Compensation
Depending on the specific details of your claim, you might be eligible to recover at least some sort of compensation. You could be compensated for lost wages (back pay and front pay), emotional distress, out-of-pocket costs, punitive damages, and legal fees for example. Your claim’s outcome could also result in hiring (if you were an applicant) or reinstatement (if you were an existing employee). You could also receive the promotion that you were being unfairly denied, for example. It is also possible that your claim results in changes in policy and the implementation of specific training in the workplace.
To learn more about the potential outcome of your claim, do not hesitate to seek legal assistance as soon as possible.
Your Claim is Subject to Deadlines
All claims are subject to strict deadlines. These deadlines establish the specific length of time that claimants have to file their claims. If claimants do not take action within the appropriate length of time, they could lose their right to take any action. The deadlines to file employment claims, however, are not always straightforward. In fact, the applicable deadlines depend on the specific action being pursued.
For example, claims with the EEOC must be filed within 180 days (or 300 days in states with state employment agencies, like California). Claimants will have 90-days to file a civil lawsuit after being granted the right to sue. On the other hand, claims with the DFEH must be filed within one year. Claimants will also have one year to file a civil lawsuit after being granted the right to sue.
If you would like to learn more about the specific deadline that applies to your claim, do not hesitate to seek legal assistance at your earliest convenience. If you fail to understand the timelines that apply to your employment discrimination and retaliation claim, you could lose your right to sue.
Contact California Labor Law Employment Attorneys Group
If you are in need of legal assistance after suffering any sort of workplace discrimination or retaliation, you could trust the experts at California Labor Law Employment Attorneys Group. At California Labor Law Employment Attorneys Group, our lawyers have many years of experience handling all sorts of claims – always representing the best interests of victimized employees. Too many employers take advantage of the power that they have over employees and violate federal and state employment laws without any real consequences. At California Labor Law Employment Attorneys Group, we are dedicated to ensuring that employers are held accountable for their unjust actions against employees.
If you would like the employment attorneys at California Labor Law Employment Attorneys Group to handle your claim, contact us today. You could benefit from our free consultations and free second opinions. Our discrimination lawyers will be available to answer all your questions and address all your concerns. Our retaliation attorneys will ensure that you have access to all the information that you need to pursue a claim and recover the compensation that you deserve. Whether you suffered discrimination based on your sexual orientation or any other protected category, you can trust our experts to effectively handle your claim. If you suffered any negative employment actions in retaliation of your attempts to exercise your basic employment rights, you can also trust our experts to handle your claim.
Our free legal services are available as part of a Zero-Fee guarantee that ensures that our clients never have to worry about paying any upfront legal fees for any of our legal services. Because our firm is also based on a strict contingency structure, our clients will never have to pay anything until after reaching a successful claim outcome – if you do not win, you will not be required to pay anything. Do not hesitate to contact California Labor Law Employment Attorneys Group today.