Professors Behaving Poorly

We are keeping our eye on two pending federal lawsuits—one filed in Ohio, the other in Kentucky—involving college professors behaving poorly on matters of gender identity. In each case, the action was filed by a professor facing negative consequences from his employer as a result of his behavior.

In Meriwether v. Trustees of Shawnee State University, Professor Meriwether filed a complaint after being held in violation of the school’s nondiscrimination policy, which mandated he address his students by the pronouns and title that accorded with each student’s gender identity. While he referred to most of his students by the title of “Mr.” or “Ms.” followed by their last names as well as “sir” or “ma’am,” he adamently refused to do so for his transgender and non-binary students, referring to these students by last name only. Meriwether’s complaint alleges nine different causes of action centering on violations of his First and Fourteenth Amendment constitutional rights.

In February 2020, the district judge for the Southern District of Ohio issued her decision dismissing Meriwether’s complaint in its entirety. Judge Susan Dlott, in adopting the Magistrate’s report and recommendation, wrote additionally that the professor’s “speech—the manner by which he addressed a transgender student—was not protected under the First Amendment,” and, furthermore, that he did not plead sufficient facts to establish a violation of his right to free exercise of religion. A month after Judge Dlott’s decision, the professor appealed the ruling to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals where it remains pending.

The second case, Josephson v. Bendapudi, involves a psychiatry professor who filed suit against the University of Louisville after the school declined to renew his contract in February 2019. Dr. Josephson has served as an expert witness in court cases and as a panel participant at the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank), opining that parents and medical professionals should not necessarily affirm the gender identity of transgender and non-binary youth. In a preliminary, procedural motion, the university argued that the professor had waited too long to file his lawsuit—and that his claims, therefore, are time-barred. Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings, district judge for the Western District of Kentucky, rejected the school’s argument and denied the motion to dismiss the complaint in March 2020. And so, this case will proceed for further argument on the law and the facts.

We will continue to watch these lawsuits as they proceed. Stay tuned!