Over 1 million readers this year!

UW, preacher who protested trans student reach settlement

The deal requires the school to pay Todd Schmidt $35,000 in attorneys fees and expenses. The college will not block him from tabling, but reserved the right to sanction him in the future if he violates University of Wyoming rules.

The breezeway where the University of Wyoming banned Todd Schmidt from reserving a table until January 2024. The ban was eventually revoked. (Madelyn Beck/WyoFile)

by Joshua Wolfson, WyoFile

The University of Wyoming and a Laramie church leader who sued the school after he was temporarily barred from tabling in the student union have reached a settlement in his lawsuit, the school announced Friday. 

Under the terms of the agreement, which a judge must still approve, the school will pay Todd Schmidt $35,000 for certain attorneys fees and other expenses. It also agreed that it wouldn’t enforce a one-year tabling ban on Schmidt that was imposed after he named UW’s first trangender sorority member on a sign that questioned the student’s gender. Finally, the school agreed not to censor Schmidt’s views on the student’s “sexual identity,” court documents show.

But the deal does not prevent the university from punishing Schmidt for future misbehavior, such as engaging with students who don’t wish to speak with him, according to a copy of a consent order filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for Wyoming.

U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Freudenthal (Photo courtesy U.S. Government)

Should Judge Nancy Freudenthal sign off on the order, the agreement will resolve a lawsuit Schmidt filed earlier this year after the university imposed the temporary ban.

A lawyer for the Center for Religious Expression, which represented Schmidt in the lawsuit, did not immediately respond Friday to a message seeking comment. Nor did a university spokesman.

In August, Freudenthal granted a preliminary injunction that blocked the university from enforcing the ban on Schmidt. She concluded Schmidt’s actions were protected speech and did not constitute illegal harassment. 

UW President Ed Seidel indicated the school accepted the judge’s decision and sought to move forward. 

“We will be watching closely to make sure that Schmidt’s speech — and that of others — does not go beyond the legal bounds recognized in this ruling and established in decades of case law,” Seidel wrote to the campus community at the time.

The suit stems from a Dec. 2 incident in the school’s student union. Schmidt, who frequently preaches on the campus, posted a sign on a breezeway table challenging the gender of Artemis Langford, who had recently been admitted as the school’s first transgender sorority member.

A group of students responded by standing in front of the sign to block others from seeing the words. 

University Dean of Students Ryan O’Neil asked Schmidt to remove Langford’s name on the grounds it violated UW policies governing the student union. He did, but only after O’Neil said she would call the police.

Church elder Todd Schmidt temporarily lost tabling privileges at the University of Wyoming’s student union. (Madelyn Beck/WyoFile)

The incident received considerable public attention. Seidel initially said Schmidt’s actions did not violate UW policies, which prompted criticism from some students and alumni. Some noted Schmidt had faced previous accusations of harassing students over their sexual identity, Freudenthal noted in her ruling on the preliminary injunction.

The university soon took action against Schmidt, banning him from tabling for a year because, officials concluded, he had violated UW rules concerning discrimination and harassment. That punishment did not ban Schmidt from the campus altogether, and within days he was back preaching at the school.

Schmidt followed with his lawsuit, and he also sought a preliminary injunction blocking the ban as the case proceeded. Freudenthal agreed to the injunction in August, noting that the mention of Langford’s name was unavoidable as part of the broader debate about whether a transgender woman should be allowed in a sorority. 

The Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority on the University of Wyoming campus. (Tennessee Watson/WyoFile)

A representative for Langford declined to comment Friday about the settlement. She is not party to the suit.

That admission prompted its own lawsuit, which is still winding its way through the courts. Six of Langford’s sorority sisters sought to void her membership, but a different federal judge dismissed the case, ruling a private organization can make its own decision concerning how it determines its membership. Attorneys for the sorority sisters want to appeal the matter, but whether they can is also a matter of legal dispute.

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.