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Former St. Louis police sergeant wins $300,000 in discrimination, retaliation suit

"Our country is inundated with unfair criminal justice policies," said Sgt. Heather Taylor, president of the Ethical Society of Police.
Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
A jury in St. Louis has awarded former St. Louis police homicide Sgt. Heather Taylor, shown speaking as president of the Ethical Society of Police, $300,000 in a 2017 racial discrimination and retaliation lawsuit.

Updated at 4:45 pm March 6 with comments from Taylor’s attorney

A jury has ordered the city of St. Louis to pay $300,000 in a discrimination case filed by a former sergeant with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

Heather Taylor, now the deputy director of public safety, filed suit in 2017 alleging racial discrimination and retaliation. The jury handed down its verdict Friday, and also required the city to pay Taylor’s attorneys fees.

“It’s vindication for Heather Taylor,” said her attorney, Sarah Swatosh. “Everyone who took the stand said that she was a 20-year employee with a sterling record. That she was an excellent homicide detective.”

The jury found for Taylor on two counts. In the first, jurors agreed that various commanders created a hostile work environment after she was investigated and disciplined for speaking to the media without permission from her commanders. The lawsuit noted that other white officers who spoke had not been disciplined.

On the second count, jurors agreed that then-Chief Sam Dotson retaliated against Taylor for her writing a 2016 report on racial tensions and discrimination within the department. At the time the report was released, Taylor was the president of the Ethical Society of Police, which advocates for officers of color, and demanded that Dotson resign.

Swatosh said some jurors that she was able to speak with after the case were shocked at the lack of regularly-scheduled anti-discrimination training in the department – something Taylor had begged for after being subjected to racist and misogynistic comments at work.

“I had one juror who essentially said, ‘Look, at my work, that doesn’t fly. If you are going to take it serious, you’ve got to do it every year,’” Swatosh said.

The city did not respond to a request for comment on the verdict.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.