Respect Diversity + Inclusion

Professor disciplined for refusing to use transgender student’s pronouns to receive $400K in settlement

“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.
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Story at a glance

  • Nicholas Meriwether is a philosophy professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio. 

  • He sued the school when it forced him to refer to students by their preferred pronouns, citing a violation of his First Amendment rights. 

  • Shawnee State settled the suit for $400,000 and will no longer require Meriwether to use students preferred pronouns. 

A professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio will be paid $400,000 after he was disciplined four years ago for refusing to use a transgender student’s preferred pronouns. 

Nicholas Meriwether, a philosophy professor at Shawnee State, was reprimanded in 2018 after he would not refer to a transgender student by her preferred pronouns. He had a warning placed in his file and was told to change the way he addresses transgender students “to avoid further corrective actions.” 

The warning stemmed from an incident in 2018, during one of his Meriwether’s lectures when he called a transgender student “sir” when she raised her hand. The student asked Meriwether to call her by her preferred pronouns, which he refused to do saying his “sincerely held religious beliefs prevented him from communicating messages about gender identity that he believes are false.” 

Meriwether went on to sue Shawnee State over its disciplinary actions saying the university violated his First Amendment rights, due process, the Ohio state Constitution and his contract with the school. 

A federal district court dismissed the case for lack of standing, but last year it was revived by a three-judge appellate court panel which had it sent back to a lower court. That led to a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit that found Shawnee State did violate Meriwether’s free speech rights when it punished him over misgendering a student.  


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Following that decision, Shawnee State agreed to settle with Meriwether. The professor will be paid $400,000 in damages and his attorneys’ fees. The university will also clear Meriwether’s file of its earlier warning. He will also be allowed to choose when to use titles or pronouns when addressing students —no longer mandated to use students’ preferred pronouns. 

In a statement, Shawnee State said the settlement was an “economic decision” and that it continues to stand behind a student’s right to a discrimination-free learning environment while also allowing its faculty and staff to freely express their beliefs. 

Meriwether’s attorneys hailed the settlement as a win for First Amendment rights. 

“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, in a statement. 

“Dr. Meriwether went out of his way to accommodate his students and treat them all with dignity and respect, yet his university punished him because he wouldn’t endorse an ideology that he believes is false. 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.” 

Meriwether has been a fixture at Shawnee State for 25 years, serving in the faculty senate, designing the school’s bachelor’s degree program in philosophy and religion and taught classes ranging from ethics to the history of Christian thought. 

Shawnee State’s settlement comes has hundreds of bills targeting LGBTQ+ people have been introduced in state legislatures nationwide, with dozens attempting to restrict talk of sexual orientation and gender identity, particularly in schools.  


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