Prof sues over gender pronoun usage

A Shawnee State University professor is suing his university, alleging that he was punished over refusing to use a student's preferred gender pronoun.

Nicholas Meriwether, who cited his Christian beliefs when refusing to use the pronoun, claims that the student told him, “then I guess this means I can call you a c**t.”

A professor at a public university in Ohio is suing the school, claiming he was punished for not calling a student by their preferred pronoun.

Shawnee State University philosophy professor Nicholas Meriwether declined to address a transgender student as a female, according to a lawsuit filed by Christian conservative nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in federal court.

The professor called on the student in class, saying “yes, sir.” The lawsuit states that Meriweather “has always used the titles and pronouns that refer to a student’s biological gender” and that he “has never knowingly used feminine titles and pronouns to refer to men or masculine titles and pronouns to refer to women.” 

[RELATED: UC Berkeley group disavows own student senator over conservative Christian views]

Meriwether says that he addresses his students as “sir” or “ma’am” or by “Mr.” or “Miss” and then says their last name. The lawsuit states he does this to “foster an atmosphere of seriousness and mutual respect that is befitting the college classroom.” 

Following the class period in January 2018, the student in question “demanded” that the professor address the student as a female, the lawsuit alleges. 

”To accede to these demands,” the lawsuit states, “would have required Dr. Meriweather to communicate views regarding gender identity that he does not hold, that he does not wish to communicate, and that would contradict (and force him to violate) his sincerely held Christian beliefs.” 

But, when Meriwether declined to address the student as a female, the student allegedly told the professor, “then I guess this means I can call you a c**t.” 

[RELATED: Lawsuit accuses TAMU of anti-male bias in sexual assault case]

The philosophy professor then offered to use whatever name the student pleased in order to make the student feel comfortable without violating Meriwether’s own Christian beliefs. 

The student was still not pleased and filed a complaint with the university.

“Under [university] policies, all professors must refer to each student—both in and out of class—using whatever pronouns the student claims reflect his gender identity,” the lawsuit says, referring to the gender identity portion of its anti-discrimination policy.

Roberta Milliken, acting dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Shawnee State, pursued a “formal charge” against Meriwether, whom she claims has “caused a hostile environment.”

As result of the Title IX investigation, Shawnee State gave Meriwether a “written warning” on June 22, placing it in his personnel file with the university. Milliken told Meriwether to address transgender students the way they want, in order to “to avoid further corrective actions.”

[RELATED: University shells out $122,500 to settle security fee lawsuit]

In August, Meriwether and Dr. Chip Poirot, president of the Shawnee Education Association, a campus union, convened a meeting with Jeffery Bauer, interim president, provost, and vice president of academic affairs at Shawnee State University to discuss his grievance.

Poirot allegedly told Bauer that the disciplinary actions did not allow Meriweather to uphold his personal religious convictions. According to the lawsuit, Bauer laughed at this claim. Bauer later denied  Meriwether’s grievance and questioned him on his initial choice not to call the student by the preferred pronoun.

“Do these freedoms supersede the rights of an individual, a student in this case, against discrimination by a public employee at a state-supported institution?” wrote Provost Jeffrey Bauer in his denial, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. “When provided with options to avoid discrimination and opposition to his religious beliefs, Dr. Meriwether chose to continue his disparate treatment of the student.”

The lawsuit contends that Bauer’s actions during the meeting prevented anything productive from happening, and even states that Poirot “was not able to present the grievance.” 

[RELATED: Lawsuit accusing college of banning ‘straight male’ from campus takes a turn]

“Tolerance is a two-way street,” ADF Senior Counsel Travis Barham said in a press release. “Universities are meant to be a marketplace of ideas, not an assembly line for one type of thought, but apparently, Shawnee State has ignored that foundational truth.”

Shawnee State College Republicans Chairman Jake Bradley told Campus Reform that Meriwether was correct in his initial decision not to call the student by their preferred pronoun.

“I believe Dr. Meriwether is in his right to not give into these pronouns,” Bradley said. “No one should be able to force you on what you can and can not say just because it may ‘offend’ someone.”

Shawnee State did not return a request for comment from Campus Reform.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @asabes10