Professor who refused to use trans student’s preferred pronouns wins massive payout from university
An Ohio university has agreed to a massive lawsuit settlement after philosophy professor Nicholas Meriwether refused to use a trans student’s preferred pronouns.
Meriwether – with the help of anti-LGBT+ lobbying group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) – sued Shawnee State University after being told by the university that he needed to use a trans student’s preferred pronouns. He claimed that the demand infringed upon his freedom of religion and speech.
After a lengthy legal battle, Shawnee State University has agreed to a $400,000 settlement, according to a press release from the ADF. Additionally, the ADF said that the university agreed that Meriwether will not be mandated to use a student’s preferred pronouns, regardless of the individual’s requests.
Shawnee State University described the settlement as an “economic decision” made after “four years of litigation”. The university also “adamantly” denied that anyone at the institution “deprived Dr Meriwether of his free speech rights or his rights to freely exercise his religion”.
“In this case, Shawnee State followed its policy and federal law that protects students or any individual from bigotry and discrimination,” the statement read.
“We continue to stand behind a student’s right to a discrimination-free learning environment as well as the rights of faculty, visitors, students and employees to freely express their ideas and beliefs.”
Shawnee State University added that it “became clear” that the case was being used to “advance divisive social and political agendas at a cost to the university and its students”.
Meriwether brought a case against Shawnee State University after he was given a written warning in June 2018 after he said officials at the university told him to use a trans student’s preferred pronouns. He claimed this went against his beliefs as a Christian.
He pushed back against the university and reportedly offered a series of compromises including using only the student’s name instead of a title or pronouns, the ADF said.
The university opened a Title IX investigation against Meriwether and concluded his treatment of the student resulted in a “hostile environment”, CNN reported. The dean of Shawnee State University’s college of arts and sciences recommended that a formal warning be put on Meriwether’s file.
A federal court in 2020 dismissed Meriwether’s lawsuit and said the university didn’t infringe on his rights by asking him to stop using male titles and pronouns to address the trans student. The judge ruled that Meriwether’s use of these gendered terms to address the trans student was “not protected under the First Amendment”.
Last year, the sixth circuit US Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that Meriwether was within his rights to continue forward with the lawsuit against the university.
The decision stated that the First Amendment interests in the case were “especially strong” as the professor’s “speech also relates to his core religious and philosophical beliefs”.
Written by the Donald Trump-appointed Catholic judge Amul Thapar, the decision stated: “The First Amendment interests are especially strong here because Nicholas Meriwether’s speech also relates to his core religious and philosophical beliefs.”
“If professors lacked free-speech protections when teaching, a university would wield alarming power to compel ideological conformity,” Thapar wrote.
“A university president could require a pacifist to declare that war is just, a civil rights icon to condemn the Freedom Riders, a believer to deny the existence of God, or a Soviet émigré to address his students as ‘comrades’. That cannot be.”
Thapar also said in the decision that “pronouns can and do convey a powerful message implicating a sensitive topic of public concern”.