Shawnee State University Settles Transgender Pronoun Lawsuit

A professor had sued the public university in Ohio after it disciplined him for refusing to use a transgender student's pronouns.

April 21, 2022 · Updated on April 21, 2022

Edited by Rebecca Long
Shawnee State University Settles Transgender Pronoun Lawsuit
Higher Ed Policy
Photo by Jena Ardell / Moment / Getty Images

  • Nicholas Meriwether was disciplined in 2018 after refusing to use a student's pronouns.
  • He sued the university later that year, accusing it of violating his First Amendment rights.
  • As part of the settlement, Meriwether will not be forced to use students' pronouns.

A public university in Ohio has agreed to a six-figure settlement with a professor who had been disciplined for refusing to use a transgender student's pronouns.

Nicholas Meriwether, who teaches religion and philosophy at Shawnee State University, sued the school in federal court in 2018 after he was disciplined for refusing to refer to a transgender student by their pronouns. A court originally sided with the school on the grounds its nondiscrimination policy allowed it to limit the professor's speech. However, a federal appeals court overturned that ruling in March 2021, sending it back to the lower court.

The lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed after the settlement was reached.

SSU will pay Meriwether $400,000 in damages as part of the settlement, according to a statement from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the conservative Christian nonprofit advocacy group that represented him. The university also agreed to pay Meriwether's attorneys' fees and rescind the written warning it issued him in June 2018.

The school in a statement called the settlement an "economic decision.” It denies that it deprived the professor of his free speech rights or his right to freely exercise his religion.

"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," it stated. "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."

Meriwether's ADF attorneys celebrated the settlement.

"Dr. Meriwether rightly defended his freedom to speak and stay silent, and not conform to the university's demand for uniformity of thought," Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, said in a statement.

The Southern Poverty Law Center designated ADF as a hate group over its views and actions targeting the LGBTQ+ community. The Law Center says the group's efforts to "deny rights and dignity to LGBTQ students" date back to at least 2005.

ADF describes itself as an organization "committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life."

Meriwether will not be forced to use a student's pronouns moving forward, ADF said.