Montana State University (Image: MSU)
A student who was punished for “hate speech” for criticizing “preferred pronouns” obtained a legal settlement in her lawsuit against Montana State University.
University administrators agreed to lift a “no-contact order” they imposed on Daria Danley last September, forbidding her from attending sorority events or entering buildings where another student Alex Lin was. Danley alleged that Lin, a member of Danley’s Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, made offensive sexual comments to Danley and others.
Both sides agreed to pay their own legal fees as part of the settlement. If a judge had ruled in favor of Danley, she would have been entitled to her legal fees from the university, under 42 U.S.C. 1988. But the settlement occurred without any judicial ruling.
Danley criticized the sorority for how it handled her complaints about Lin. She also criticized Alpha Gamma Delta’s use of name tags bearing wearers’ “preferred pronouns,” at an August event.
“The fact that MSU is caving in on its no-contact order is an admission that they know it’s unconstitutional,” Danley’s attorney Matthew Monforton told the local newspaper. But a university spokesman did not concede this, saying “Montana State University has accepted this settlement as a conciliatory mechanism to best serve the interests of our students.”
Montana State has been repeatedly sued for allegedly violating the First Amendment, such as punishing people for speech about transgender issues. In 2019, it agreed to pay $120,000 to settle a lawsuit from Erik Powell. Powell privately expressed discomfort with a gender dysphoric student in a meeting with a professor.
In a December 2018 ruling, a judge rejected motions for summary judgment from both Powell and Montana State, and ordered the case to go to trial. U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon said there were too many unanswered questions to decide the case without a trial. He did say that Montana State University’s harassment policy, which was used against Powell, did not “facially” violate the First Amendment, even if it was possibly applied in a way that violated the First Amendment. Erik Powell said Montana State suspended and banned him from campus in response to a misinterpreted conversation with his human-sexuality course instructor and a kangaroo-court investigation overseen by Montana State’s Title IX coordinator.
The issue of “preferred pronouns” continues to result in costly lawsuits for colleges. In Ohio, Shawnee State University agreed to pay $400,000 to settle a lawsuit from Professor Nicholas Meriwether after it punished him for not using a student’s made-up LGBT pronouns. It “agreed Meriwether will never be mandated to use pronouns, including if a student requests pronouns that conflict with his or her biological sex,” according to Meriwether’s lawyers at the Alliance Defending Freedom.
In September, a professor sued Southern Utah University to keep it from forcing him to use students’ preferred pronouns, no matter how made up or ungrammatical. “Professor Richard Bugg [must] submit to education about current views and opinions of English language and grammar experts and resources that using Gender-Neutral pronouns when referring to an individual is now considered grammatically correct,” according to one directive aimed at him by SUU. “Asking people to use plural pronouns to refer to individuals is one thing. Forcing them to do it is another and contrary to our rights of free speech,” Professor Bugg said.
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