(WB) A southern Ohio university agreed to a $400,000 settlement in a lawsuit brought forward by a professor who refused to use a trans student’s correct pronouns.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed a district court’s decision in March 2021, ruling Shawnee State University professor Nicholas Meriwether’s First Amendment rights to free speech and religion were violated when the school disciplined him for misgendering a Trans student, according to a ruling. The three-judge panel, made up of two Donald Trump appointees and a George W. Bush appointee, sent the case back to the district court.
After more than a year, the case was dismissed last Thursday after the university agreed to pay Meriwether $400,000. As part of the settlement, the school agreed that Meriwether will not be forced to use pronouns that coincide with a student’s gender identity, according to his lawyers.
The lawsuit, which dates back to 2018, argued Shawnee State University’s nondiscrimination policy, introduced in 2016, requiring pronouns to match gender identity was unconstitutional, violating the First Amendment. He named the school’s trustees as defendants.
Meriwether told the un-named Trans student that using her correct pronouns would “violate his conscience and sincerely held religious beliefs,” said court documents. He did offer a “compromise,” according to the lawsuit, offering to refer to the student by her last name, with no gendered title. But the student refused.
“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 Travis Barham, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal advocacy group, adding: “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.”
Shawnee State called the settlement an “economic decision” in a statement while “adamantly” denying it deprived Meriwether of his First Amendment rights.
“Over the course of this lawsuit, 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,” school officials said. “That cost is better spent on fulfilling Shawnee State’s mission of service to our students, families and community.”
The statement added: “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.”
Last June, the U.S. Department of Education clarified that Title IX protections also cover discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The department cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which recognized that sex-based discrimination includes LGBTQ+ people.
“Today, the Department makes clear that all students — including LGBTQ+ students — deserve the opportunity to learn and thrive in schools that are free from discrimination,” said Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona at the time.