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Tenured professor files a lawsuit against Southern Utah University alleging a violation of his free speech rights by requiring him to use nonbinary student’s preferred pronouns

A tenured professor at Southern Utah University filed a lawsuit against university leaders on Tuesday after they demanded that he use “they/them” pronouns when referring to a nonbinary student in his class. The professor accused SUU leaders of violating his free speech rights, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The public university theater professor, Richard Bugg, filed the complaint against SUU’s president, the dean of the Department of Theatre, Dance and Arts Administration, and others. The nonbinary student was not named in the case.

According to the lawsuit, the student requested on the first day of class that Bugg use the student’s preferred “they/them” pronouns. The professor said he tried not to address the student using “she/her” pronouns, but that he “unintentionally did so two or three times.”

Bugg stated that instead of using plural gender-neutral pronouns, he would be willing to use any “singular pronouns or proper name” the student desired.

The lawsuit stated, “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.”

Six days into the fall semester, the student filed a complaint against Bugg with SUU’s Title IX Office. Another student stepped forward and filed a second complaint against the teacher for refusing to address the nonbinary student with the student’s preferred pronouns.

The complaints caused SUU to launch an investigation into Bugg five days later.

In the meantime, the nonbinary student encouraged others attending Bugg’s class to boycott the course. The student requested that the school offer students a substitute “shadow class.”

As a result of the investigation, university leaders concluded in January 2022 that Bugg had allegedly violated school policy by discriminating and harassing a student based on gender identity.

Three months later, the university accused the professor of sexual harassment for refusing to use the nonbinary student’s preferred pronouns. University officials considered it “conduct based on sex” that was “objectively offensive” and violated the student’s access to equal education, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Kevin Price, the university’s assistant vice president of human resources, issued sanctions against Bugg. The professor was ordered to attend a course on gender-neutral language.

Price ruled that if Bugg continued to refuse to use “they/them” to refer to the student, additional sanctions would be implemented, including his termination. The university also stated that his pay would be reduced if the school had to open additional courses to teach students who refused to sign up for his classes.

The complaint requested that the university release statements saying that Bugg did not violate school policy or Title IX by refusing to use a student’s preferred pronouns.