University to pay professor $400,000 after disciplining him for refusing to use correct pronouns when addressing transgender student

A Shawnee State University professor who was disciplined for using the wrong pronouns when addressing a transgender student is being awarded $400,000 after a lawsuit against the university.

Nick Meriwether, a philosophy professor at the Ohio school, declined to use she/her pronouns to refer to a transgender woman, according to a press release from Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal organization that focuses on religious freedom and free speech cases and represented Meriwether.

Meriwether responded to the student during classes by saying, “Yes, sir.” The student asked him after class to use she/her pronouns when addressing her, but Meriwether said no. The student filed a complaint and the university launched an investigation, according to a press release from the alliance.

Meriwether offered to use the student’s name, but not pronouns or titles. The university ruled he should use the correct pronouns, which the professor argued “speak contrary to his religious convictions and philosophical beliefs.”

The university determined “he effectively created a hostile environment” for the student and placed written warning in his personnel file, threatening “further corrective actions,” according to the alliance.

The professor filed a lawsuit against university officials, which they tried to have dismissed. In 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled in favor of Meriwether, reversing a district court’s dismissal of his suit, according to the alliance.

The court ruled Shawnee State officials had violated Meriwether’s free speech rights when they took action.

The alliance announced last week a settlement with Shawnee State has been reached. As part of the settlement agreement, the university will pay $400,000 in damages and Meriwether’s attorneys’ fees and they will also rescind the written warning issued in June 2018. After the settlement was reached, Meriwether’s attorneys filed a voluntary dismissal of the case.

In a statement, Shawnee State University said after four years of litigation, it “made an economic decision to settle the Meriwether case.”

“Though we have decided to settle, we adamantly deny that anyone at Shawnee State deprived Dr. Meriwether of his free speech rights or his rights to freely exercise his religion,” the statement reads. The university said it followed its policy and federal law that protects students or any individual from bigotry and discrimination.

“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,” the statement continues. “Over the course of this lawsuit, 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. That cost is better spent on fulfilling Shawnee State’s mission of service to our students, families and community.”

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