The student threatened a lawsuit against the university, and under pressure from the university, Meriwether agreed to address the student using preferred pronouns on the condition he could put a disclaimer in his syllabus stating his real views and the duress he believed himself to be under. This move was rejected.
University officials sided with the student and said the professor violated school non-discrimination policy and could be fired or suspended without pay. The policy did not explicitly include gender identity until April 2019.
Meriwether said the student received high grades and was not treated differently than other students.
The professor’s faculty union unsuccessfully appealed the disciplinary action before he filed his lawsuit. In March 2021, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Meriwether’s lawsuit could proceed.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights was among those representing the student and the Sexuality and Gender Acceptance student group at Shawnee State.
Asaf Orr, the group’s senior staff attorney and director, said the lawsuit should have been dismissed and her group believes it would have failed had it been allowed to proceed.
“Regardless of this settlement, Shawnee State’s legal obligation to protect transgender students from discrimination remains intact. We remain committed to taking all necessary actions to safeguard the rights of transgender students at Shawnee State,” she said in an email, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
The LGBT advocacy group Equality Ohio said the settlement could have a chilling effect on students’ speech. Ohio Siobhan Boyd-Nelson, the group’s deputy executive director, said the “right, legal thing” is to “use correct student names and pronouns and visibly support their LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff.”
“Misgendering” is a major taboo for many supporters of transgender identity and for many who identify as transgender. This position is rapidly becoming normalized under strict interpretations of anti-discrimination law and policies which treat “gender identity” as a protected class akin to race or sex. News coverage of these controversies can face censorship on social media which have the same policies.
Meriwether himself discussed the case in a Sept. 28, 2020 opinion essay for The Hill. He contended “leftist professors and students enjoy enormous leeway, protected from any message that might question their views or ‘offend’ them.”
“But conservative and traditionally religious professors and students who dare cross the leftist party line, such as the requirement to speak precisely as ‘woke’ ideology demands, are subject to discriminatory policies and even dismissal,” he said.
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Meriwether said his own college experience did not affirm his own identity of “Protestant orthodoxy,” and in his recollection when he was a student a respected professor “gave a public lecture on campus about how people like me are destroying the planet.”
He had seen these differences of views as part of the college environment, believing “I can’t expect everyone to agree with me, and I hope they extend the same courtesy to me.” However, he now questions whether this still described the college experience.