Shawnee State University in Ohio has reached a settlement with a professor whom it punished for refusing to use a transgender student’s preferred pronouns, according to a new report.
The university will pay philosophy professor Nick Meriwether $400,000 in damages and attorney fees and will rescind a written warning it issued to Meriwether in June 2018 in response to a biological male student’s complaint that the professor refused to use female pronouns for the student, Fox News reported.
The controversy began in January 18 when Meriwether responded to the student’s question during a political philosophy class by saying, “Yes, sir.” After class, the student told the professor that the student is transgender and asked to be referred to as a woman going forward, including with “feminine titles and pronouns,” according to the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Meriwether in court.
The professor argued that obliging the student’s requests would violate his own convictions as a Christian. When the professor declined to use female pronouns, the student became belligerent and told Meriwether he would be fired, according to court documents cited by Fox News.
The student then filed a complaint with Shawnee State, which opened an investigation into the incident. The university found that the professor “effectively created a hostile environment” for the student by not using the preferred pronouns. Meriwether offered to call the student by any name requested, however. The student did not accept the professor’s offer, according to the report.
The university placed a written warning in the professor’s personnel file warning that “further corrective actions” could be taken if a similar incident occurred.
Meriwether then sued the university, arguing that it violated his “right to free exercise of religion under the First Amendment.”
The settlement comes after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit reversed a district court’s dismissal of the lawsuit in March 2021, allowing the professor’s lawsuit to move forward.
ADF announced last week that it reached a settlement with the university.
“Public universities should welcome intellectual and ideological diversity, where all students and professors can engage in meaningful discussions without compromising their core beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Dr. Meriwether rightly defended his freedom to speak and stay silent, and not conform to the university’s demand for uniformity of thought. We commend the university for ultimately agreeing to do the right thing, in keeping with its reason for existence as a marketplace of ideas.”