A university has agreed to pay a philosophy professor $400,000 after disciplining him for refusing to use a trans student’s preferred pronouns.
Shawnee State University professor Nicholas Meriwether was punished in 2018 after refusing to adhere to academic policy.
The academic guidelines required the use of pronouns, including preferred pronouns, that match a student’s gender identity, which was first introduced in 2016, according to CNN.
Meriwether, who is of Christian faith, challenged the policy as he believed the academic guidelines went against his religious beliefs.
The professor refused to use the preferred pronouns of a trans student who requested to be referred to as a woman.
Meriwether had offered to use the surname of the student but reportedly used the incorrect gendered title.
A Title IX investigation was opened against the professor which concluded that Meriwether’s classroom treatment created a “hostile environment” and was issued a written warning.
Meriwether sued Shawnee State University in 2018. His case was initially dismissed by a federal district court due to a “lack of standing”.
However, last year, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, consisting of three judges, overturned the dismissal. The appellate panel ruled Meriwether’s First Amendment (freedom of speech) and 4th Amendment rights had been violated.
The professor’s attorneys argued Meriwether “had offered to use any name the student requested instead of titles and pronouns”, but this was rejected.
The university has since agreed to settle the lawsuit filed by Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of Meriwether.
A press statement released by Alliance Defending Freedom addressed 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.”
Shawnee State University has released a statement following its settlement decision: “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 university also released a public comment stating its agent to protect students 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,” Shawnee State University said in a statement.