UPDATE: This piece has been updated to reflect a statement from Southern Utah University.
A tenured theatre professor filed a federal court lawsuit against Southern Utah University (SUU) officials Tuesday over being required to use a student’s preferred gender-neutral pronouns, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
SUU determined in January that Richard Bugg’s conduct toward a student who asked him to use “they/them” pronouns during the Fall 2021 semester was discriminatory, gender identity-based harassment and broke university policy, the outlet reported. Investigators subsequently ruled he had sexually harassed the student in refusing to use those pronouns.
Bugg’s lawsuit argues that forcing people “to use plural pronouns to refer to individuals” contradicts free-speech rights, according to the Tribune. He alleges he had offered to use any “singular pronouns or proper name” the student wished.
Bugg claims to have found it “virtually impossible” not to reference the student with female pronouns, accidentally doing so multiple times, the Tribune reported. (RELATED: School District Is Requiring Its Employees To Call Students By Preferred Pronouns, Names)
The student formally complained to the SUU’s Title IX Office about Bugg’s refusal to use “they/them” pronouns less than one week into the semester, allegedly urged classmates to boycott his class and requested an alternative university-sanctioned “shadow class,” according to the outlet. A second student also complained of being offended by Bugg’s choice.
Bugg’s lawsuit accuses SUU Assistant Vice President of Human Resources Kevin Price of requiring him to take a gender-neutral language course, according to the Tribune. The professor was allegedly threatened with being fired and pay reduction if new classes had to be opened for students refusing to sign up for his.
“Southern Utah University is aware of a complaint filed in federal court by Richard Bugg. While SUU has limits on what it can discuss when an issue involves personnel matters or students, SUU implements and follows its established policies based on the law,” SUU’s Public Relations Director David Bishop sent in a statement to the Daily Caller News Foundation. “This includes a meaningful opportunity for all to be heard before a decision is made.”
Bugg claimed most campuses including SUU’s have seen “coercion of speech,” the Tribune reported. He denied breaking school policy and argued that a professor refusing to use a student’s preferred pronouns did not violate Title IX.
SUU’s website still listed Bugg as a faculty member at the time of publication.
Bugg did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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