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A university pays $400K to professor who refused to use a student's pronouns

Shawnee State University in southern Ohio has agreed to pay philosophy professor Nick Meriwether $400,000 after disciplining him for not using a transgender student's pronouns.
Alliance Defending Freedom
Shawnee State University in southern Ohio has agreed to pay philosophy professor Nick Meriwether $400,000 after disciplining him for not using a transgender student's pronouns.

A public university professor in Ohio who was disciplined four years ago for refusing to use a transgender student's pronouns is being awarded $400,000 following a lawsuit against the university.

Nick Meriwether, a philosophy professor at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio, sued the college in 2018 after he was disciplined for not using she/her pronouns to refer to a transgender woman, according to a news release from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a legal organization focusing on religious freedom and free speech cases.

In a January 2018 philosophy class, Meriwether responded to the student by using the phrase "Yes, sir." Once the class ended, the student asked Meriwether to use she/her pronouns when addressing her, but Meriwether refused to do so, according to ADF.

Meriwether did not agree with the student's request, as court documents indicate that the student became "belligerent" and promised that the professor would get fired.

The student, who was not named, filed a complaint against Meriwether that sparked a formal investigation with the university.

According to ADF, the university ruled that Meriwether should use the student's correct pronouns — which Meriwether argued spoke "contrary to his religious convictions and philosophical beliefs."

The university determined that Meriwether created a "hostile environment" for the unnamed student, eventually placing a written warning in his personnel file and threatening "further corrective actions," according to ADF.

In 2018, Meriwether filed a lawsuit against Shawnee State University, which the school tried to get thrown out. But last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled in favor of Meriwether, according to ADF.

The court ruled that university officials violated the professor's free speech rights when they disciplined him.

In a news release, ADF announced it had reached a settlement with Shawnee State, as the university agreed to pay $400,000 in damages and Meriwether's legal fees.

Additionally, the written warning issued to his personnel file in 2018 will be removed.

Shawnee State University said in a statement that after four years of legal action, the university decided to make an "economic decision" to settle the 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 university's statement reads.

Since the lawsuit was filed nearly four years ago, the university said, "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," according to the university.

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