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Ohio public university pays $400K after punishing professor for not using student’s preferred pronouns

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A public university based in Ohio will now have to pay $400,000 in both damages and attorney fees after the school punished a professor for declining a male student’s request to be addressed using feminine pronouns.

Nick Meriwether, who is a philosophy professor at Shawnee State University, sparked controversy when responding to a male student’s question during a political philosophy class in January 2018 by saying “Yes, sir.”

After the class concluded, the student informed the professor that he identified as transgender, and he demanded to be called a woman in the future, as well as to be addressed with “feminine titles and pronouns,” according to the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is the group that represented the professor in court.

Meriwether argued that adhering to the student’s request would have violated his beliefs as a Christian. Court documents state that as Meriwether did not agree to the student’s request, the student became belligerent and told Meriwether he would be fired.

The student then filed a formal complaint with the university, which launched an investigation that eventually determined that Meriwether “effectively created a hostile environment” for that particular student due to his refusal to use the preferred pronouns. While Meriwether did offer to call the student by any name requested, the student did not accept that offer.

The university then went on to place a written warning in Meriwether’s personnel file, stating that “further corrective actions” would be taken if another incident occurred.

Meriwether went on to sue Shawnee State University, arguing that it violated his “right to free exercise of religion under the First Amendment.”

In March 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit favored Meriwether, which reversed a district court’s previous dismissal of the suit, allowing him to continue fighting against the University.

On Thursday, Alliance Defending Freedom announced that it reached the $400,000 settlement with Shawnee State University, which will pay for all damages and attorney fees.

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