A federal judge has dismissed a case against Shawnee State University, from a professor.
Nicholas Meriwether, a humanities professor with SSU since 1996, filed a lawsuit against the University in 2018. He believed he was unlawfully punished for not complying with the school’s nondiscrimination policies.
Since then, Susan Dlott, a U.S. District Judge has dismissed the case. The court ruled the way in which he addressed the student was not protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
The inciting incident took place within Meriwether’s classroom on Jan. 9, 2018. The student, as per the filed complaint “demanded” Meriwether address them based on their preferred pronouns as those were the ones they identified with.
Meriwether declined on the basis of his faith. Per the refusal, the file states the student became agitated and belligerent.
The Humanities professor would report the altercation to the Chair of the department of English and Humanities. This found its way to the desk of Acting Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at SSU, Roberta Milliken.
Milliken would advise Meriwether to only refer to students as their last name, inevitably removing the basis of gendered pronouns and titles all together.
The professor would disregard the suggestion, stating, “referring to students by last names alone would undermine the serious pedagogical environment he seeks to create, because that is what people refer to one another in junior high or on an athletic team, and not the way scholars engage in a serious, respectful enterprise, refer to one another.”
Meriwether would concede to referring to the student in question, only by their last name.
The event in question, repeated. On multiple occasions, Meriwether’s failure to properly address a transgender student on their chosen identity resulted in SSU stepping in.
In the documents, Meriwether, believes he was “silenced” and “punished” and forced to act against his religion.
The lawsuit states, on Jan. 25, “Milliken expressed to Meriwether that the student was not satisfied with the arrangement and had threatened to file a Title IX grievance over Dr. Meriwether’s expression.”
Meriwether was then informed that if he did not comply with the student’s demands that he would be violating the University’s Nondiscrimination Policies. After the issue was not resolved, the student stated they would contact an attorney. The school stepped in to discuss Meriwether’s plan of action. He would not concede.
Meriwether received formal notice that he was expected to comply with policy and informed the university was conducting an investigation.
An investigation found Meriwether’s “Disparate treatment” had created a hostile environment for the students, thus, violating the Universities policies. Two years have passed, since the lawsuit was filed.
The court used prior cases such as Baker v. Peterson (2003) and Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018) as cornerstones. After deliberation, the court concluded; Meriwether failed to state a claim for violation of his rights. The way in which he addressed the student was not protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution. Furthermore, he did not plead facts sufficient to state a claim of violation to his rights of free exercise of religion, nor a violation of due process or equal protection.
The motion to dismiss the lawsuit against Shawnee State University filed by an instructor was approved and Meriwether’s objections, overruled.
Reach Bailey Watts (740) 353-3101 Ext 1931
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