A jury has ordered Oberlin College to pay more than $44 million in actual and punitive damages after finding that the college defamed a local bakery, an Oberlin Ohio institution in business since 1885, and its owners and inflicted emotional distress on them.
The jury’s award followed a six-week trial that detailed each minute of a bitter saga that began in November 2016 with the arrests of three black Oberlin students at Gibson’s Bakery near the college’s campus in Oberlin, Ohio. The plaintiffs in the libel suit were Gibson’s Bakery and its owners.
According to court records, a black Oberlin College student attempted to purchase wine with a fake ID. Allyn Gibson, a relative of one of the owners, suspected the student was attempting to steal wine and chased after and detained the student after he attempted to flee. The other two students intervened and all three students were subsequently arrested.
When news broke of the incident, some students of Oberlin College arranged a protest of the bakery accusing the bakery’s owners of racism. According to the complaint, Oberlin College staff, including deans and professors, engaged in the protests as well. Students of the college also petitioned the college to cut all ties with the bakery.
The defamation claims surrounded a flier that the plaintiffs alleged the Oberlin Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo and other college staff members participated in creating and disseminating to the community and the media that contained libelous statements accusing Gibson’s Bakery of being a “RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION” and urged people not to buy from the bakery. The flier also listed a number of the bakery’s competitors and urged individuals to patronize those businesses instead. A copy of the complaint, including the flier, is available here. Continue reading ›