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Tipsheet

University to Pay Professor Who Refused to Use Transgender Student’s Preferred Pronouns $400,000

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

A public university in Ohio will pay a professor $400,000 after he was punished by the school for refusing to address a student by their preferred pronouns.

Philosophy professor Nicholas Meriwether at Shawnee State University settled with the university after filing a lawsuit in November 2018 alleging that it chose to “force the professor to speak and act contrary to his own Christian convictions and philosophical beliefs,”  according to a press release from Meriwether’s attorney. 

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“The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled in March 2021 that the university violated Meriwether’s free speech rights when it punished him because he declined a male student’s demand to be referred to as a woman, with feminine titles and pronouns. Meriwether had offered to use any name the student requested instead of titles and pronouns, but the university rejected that compromise,” the press release explained.

“As part of the settlement, the university has agreed that Meriwether has the right to choose when to use, or avoid using, titles or pronouns when referring to or addressing students. Significantly, the university agreed Meriwether will never be mandated to use pronouns, including if a student requests pronouns that conflict with his or her biological sex,” it added.

According to local USA Today-affiliated outlet The Cincinnati Enquirer, Meriwether has taught at the university since 1996 and “always refers to all his students using ‘sir,’ ’ma’am,’ ‘mister’ or ‘miss’ to foster an atmosphere of seriousness and mutual respect.”

Reportedly, when the biological male student approached Meriwether after class and asked to be referred to by female pronouns, he said that he would instead refer to the student by their last name. The student then filed a complaint with the university. 

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As a result, Meriwether was “informally warned” and asked for clarification of the school’s policy. The student complained again, claiming that Meriwether used their last name with “mister” in front of it. Meriwether said it was accidental. 

“A Title IX investigation resulted in a written warning being placed in Meriwether's personnel file stating he violated the school's nondiscrimination policy,” the Enquirer explained. Meriwether added that the school refused other options he proposed.

“After four years of litigation, Shawnee State University 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,” a statement from Shawnee State read.

“This case forced us to defend what used to be a common belief—that nobody should be forced to contradict their core beliefs just to keep their job,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Travis Barham in a press release. “Dr. Meriwether went out of his way to accommodate his students and treat them all with dignity and respect, yet his university punished him because he wouldn’t endorse an ideology that he believes is false. We’re pleased to see the university recognize that the First Amendment guarantees Dr. Meriwether—and every other American—the right to speak and act in a manner consistent with one’s faith and convictions.”

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