After facing workplace discipline for refusing to use the preferred pronouns of a transgender student, a professor sued his employer.
In 2016, Shawnee State University informed faculty members that they had to refer to students by their preferred pronouns.
Further, it also said employees would be disciplined if they “refused to use a pronoun that reflects a student’s self-asserted gender identity.”
Nicholas Meriwether, a veteran employee with more than 25 years under his belt, was concerned about the requirement. He said he felt the rule conflicted with his sincerely held religious beliefs.
Two years later, a transgender female student took a philosophy class taught by Meriwether, who ultimately refused to comply with the pronouns requirement. Instead, Meriwether referred to the student by last name. According to Meriwether, the student never displayed anxiety in class and received a high grade.
Even so, the school launched an investigation and determined Meriwether violated its nondiscrimination policy. As a result, a formal written warning was placed in Meriwether’s file.
The reprimand directed Meriwether to change the way he addressed transgender students to “avoid further corrective actions,” which could include “suspension without pay and termination, among other possible punishments.”
Afterward, Meriwether filed an internal grievance, which was denied. He then sued, asserting violations of his speech rights and other claims.
A federal court dismissed his case, and Meriwether appealed to the Sixth Circuit in Ohio. It reversed the decision, finding he stated plausible free speech claims.