An Ohio university has agreed to pay one of their professors $400,000 in a settlement after they disciplined him for refusing to use a transgender students “preferred pronouns.”
According to the terms of the settlement, Nicholas Meriwether, a philosophy professor at Shawnee State University, has the right to choose when to use, or avoid using, titles or pronouns when referring to or addressing students.
The legal battle began in 2018, after university officials opened a Title IX investigation into Meriwether because he declined a biological male student’s demand to be referred to as a woman, with feminine titles and pronouns (“Miss,” “she,” etc.).
“Meriwether had offered to use any name the student requested instead of titles and pronouns, but the university rejected that compromise, instead forcing the professor to speak contrary to his religious convictions and philosophical beliefs,” Meriweather’s legal team, Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a statement.
The US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled in March 2021 that the university had violated Meriwether’s free speech rights by punishing him.
“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 ADF Senior Counsel Travis Barham. “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.”
ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, commended the university for ultimately agreeing to “do the right thing.”
“Public universities should welcome intellectual and ideological diversity, where all students and professors can engage in meaningful discussions without compromising their core beliefs,” said Langhofer. “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.”
In light of the settlement, ADF attorneys filed a voluntary dismissal of the case on Thursday.
In a statement about the case, Shawnee University claimed that the settlement was purely an economic 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 school’s statement read. “In this case, Shawnee State 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.”
“That cost is better spent on fulfilling Shawnee State’s mission of service to our students, families and community,” Shawnee State’s statement added.