Bakery suing Oberlin College for libel wins $33M in damages

Oberlin College must pay an Ohio bakery $33.2 million in punitive damages after students boycotted the business over a racial profiling incident.

In November 2016, a black Oberlin student went to Gibson’s Bakery to try to purchase alcohol with a fake ID, The New York Times reported. A white employee, the grandson of the owner, chased the student outside and allegedly placed him in a chokehold.

Oberlin students protested the bakery, accusing the store of racism. They also successfully petitioned the school to ban the shop from supplying its cafeteria.{mosads}

In November 2017, the bakery sued the college and its dean of students, Meredith Raimondo, for libel.  

In court, the students involved in the altercation at Gibson’s all pleaded guilty to misdemeanors and said the bakery’s reaction was not racially motivated, according to The Chronicle-Telegram.

Thursday’s decision follows a ruling last week, requiring Oberlin to pay $11 million in compensatory damages, bringing the total to more than $40 million, The Chronicle-Telegram reported. 

“All the Gibsons ever wanted was for the truth to come out,” Lee Plakas, the Gibson family attorney, said, according to The Chronicle-Telegram after the initial ruling.

“All they ever asked from the beginning, from Oberlin College, was to use its power and influence and might to tell the truth, and that letter never came,” Plakas continued. “But the jury sent the letter that was louder and more visible and more public. I think the Gibson family is grateful for that and grateful for the jury to have the courage to be able to send a letter that no one else would send for the last almost three years.”

Donica Thomas Varner, vice president, general counsel and secretary of Oberlin College, sent an email to the school’s alumni association after last week’s decision, saying they were “disappointed” and only trying to protect students’ free speech on campus, according to The Chronicle-Telegram. 

“Neither Oberlin College nor Dean Meredith Raimondo defamed a local business or its owners, and they never endorsed statements made by others,” Varner wrote, according to The Chronicle-Telegram. “Rather, the College and Dr. Raimondo worked to ensure that students’ freedom of speech was protected and that the student demonstrations were safe and lawful, and they attempted to help the plaintiffs repair any harm caused by the student protests.” 

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