A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit last week filed against Shawnee State University by a professor who claims he was retaliated against for refusing to address a transgender student by the student’s preferred pronouns.
Professor Nicholas Meriwether sued the university, its board of trustees, and several other officials in November 2018, claiming the school retaliated against him when he refused to refer to a biologically male student as a female.
According to the lawsuit, “a male student demanded that Dr. Meriwether address him as a woman because he identified as such and threatened to have Dr. Meriwether fired if he declined.”
The lawsuit reveals that the student “complained to the university,” which in turn “sought to silence” and punish Meriwether, The Ohio Star reported.
Although the professor offered to compromise by using the student’s first or last name, neither the student nor the university was willing to accept that, demanding the professor speak and act contrary to his Christian convictions, said Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is representing Meriwether in the case.
Travis Barham, senior counsel for ADF, said the university refused to consider any solutions that would respect the freedoms of everyone involved.
“Instead, it chose to impose its own orthodoxy on Meriwether under threat of further punishment if he doesn’t relinquish his rights protected by the First Amendment,” he said.
The university eventually placed a written warning in his personnel file and threatened “further corrective actions” unless he adopted the university’s policy.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, and on September 5 U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Litkovitz recommended that the court dismiss the lawsuit. In a Wednesday ruling, U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott agreed with the recommendation and dismissed the complaint.
“His speech—the manner by which he addressed a transgender student—was not protected under the First Amendment,” Dlott wrote in her ruling.
Barham told the Associated Press Monday that he and his client are evaluating their next steps.
“This is wrong,” he said. “Public universities have no business compelling people to express ideological beliefs that they don’t hold.”
Judge Dlott was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio by President Bill Clinton in 1995.
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