Meriwether v. Hartop, No. 20-3289 (6th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Meriwether, a Shawnee State University professor, is a devout Christian. In 2016, Shawnee told faculty to refer to students by their preferred pronouns. Meriwether’s department chair was dismissive of Meriwether’s concerns and religious beliefs. In 2018, Meriwether called on “Doe,” saying "Yes, sir." According to Meriwether, “no one . . . would have assumed that [Doe] was female.” Doe demanded that Meriwether “refer to [Doe] as a woman.” Meriwether believed that his sincerely-held religious beliefs prevented him from communicating messages about gender identity that he believes to be false. Doe became threatening. Meriwether reported the incident. Meriwether was advised to “eliminate all sex-based references.” Meriwether later accidentally referred to Doe as “Mr.” before immediately correcting himself. Doe again complained. Meriwether subsequently used only Doe’s last name, and awarded Doe a high grade. Meriwether continued to seek accommodation of his religious views; Shawnee would not compromise. The Title IX office concluded that Meriwether created a hostile environment without mentioning Meriwether’s religious beliefs. Shawnee placed a warning in Meriwether’s file. The faculty union filed an unsuccessful grievance.
The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of Meriwether’s suit. Meriwether has plausibly alleged that Shawnee violated his First Amendment rights by compelling his speech or silence and casting a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom. Meriwether was speaking on a matter of public concern; Shawnee’s interest in punishing Meriwether’s speech is comparatively weak. Shawnee exhibited hostility to his religious beliefs and irregularities in its adjudication and investigation processes permit a plausible inference of non-neutrality.