A public university professor in Ohio has been awarded $400,000 after he was disciplined four years ago for not using a transgender student’s preferred pronouns.
Nicholas Meriwether, a philosophy professor at Shawnee State University in southern Ohio, sued the school in 2018, arguing the disciplinary action brought against him for refusing to use a student’s preferred titles and pronouns violated his free speech rights.
According to a news release from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a legal organization focused on religious freedom and free speech cases, forcing Meriwether to call the student by she/her pronouns went against the professor’s “religious convictions and philosophical beliefs.”
The case began in 2018 after Meriwether addressed a transgender student as “sir.”
When the class ended, the student asked Meriwether to use she/her pronouns when being addressed, but Meriwether refused to do so.
According to the ADF, Meriwether offered to use any name the student requested, but the student became “belligerent” and “promised to get Meriwether fired.”
The university launched an investigation into the incident and found Meriwether had created a “hostile environment” in the classroom.
He was delivered a written warning stating he could be fired or suspended without pay for violating the university’s nondiscrimination policy.
Meriwether sued the university, which was initially dismissed by a federal district court due to lack of standing, but later appealed and reversed.
In March 2021, the 6th Circuit Court ruled in Meriwether’s favor, noting that if “professors lacked free speech protections when teaching, a university would wield alarming power to compel ideological conformity.”
It added: “A university president could require a pacifist to declare that war is just, a civil rights icon to condemn the Freedom Riders, a believer to deny the existence of God, or a Soviet émigré to address his students as ‘comrades.’ That cannot be.”
Shawnee State University stated the “economic decision” to settle was due to the case “being used to advance divisive social and political agendas at a cost to the university and its students.”
Over in the workplace, pronouns are also becoming significantly more important.
In a similar lawsuit in the U.S., a transgender woman named Megan Milo is suing Northrop Grumman and Cybercore Technologies, alleging her managers and coworkers “began to misgender” her after her transition in order to “diminish her gender and gender expression.”
The ruling has yet to be determined, but this hasn’t stopped other private companies from moving forward in using pronouns to make the workplace more gender-inclusive.
LinkedIn rolled out a pronouns field in March 2021 for its 200 million U.S. users, which more than 1.6 million members added by September 2021.
Zoom and Slack have similarly added functions that allow users to add pronouns to their profiles and created bots that promote more gender inclusive language, which 16,420 organizations and companies with Slack accounts have adopted.
Never miss a story: Follow your favorite topics and authors to get a personalized email with the journalism that matters most to you.