Transgender pronoun suit dismissed: Judge said prof’s preference isn’t protected

Published 9:03 am Tuesday, February 18, 2020

PORTSMOUTH (AP) — A judge dismissed a professor’s lawsuit against Shawnee State University that rebuked him for not addressing a transgender student using the student’s preferred gender terms.

Nicholas Meriwether’s federal lawsuit alleged that Shawnee State University officials violated his rights by compelling him to speak in a way that contradicts his Christian beliefs.

Schools officials contended that such language was part of his job responsibilities, not speech protected by the First Amendment, and that the case should be dismissed. U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott dismissed it last week, agreeing that the manner in which Meriwether addressed the student wasn’t protected under the First Amendment.

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He had received a written warning for violating the school’s nondiscrimination policy and unsuccessfully challenged his reprimand in a grievance process. Meriwether said he treated the student like “other biologically male students.”

In his suit, Meriwether, who has taught at SSU since 1996, said to do so violated his Christian beliefs and that he refers to students as “sir” or “ma’am” because he “believes that this formal manner of addressing students helps them view the academic enterprise as a serious, weighty endeavor.”

The incident in question happened in January 2018 when Meriwether kept referring to the student as “sir.” The student objected, and according to Meriwether’s suit, demanded to be referred to as a woman and became belligerent when he refused. Meriwether was asked to refer to students by their last names but he refused.