An Ohio appeals court has upheld a ruling that awarded more than $30 million to a bakery that accused Oberlin College of damaging its business and libeling it with false accusations of racism.
A three-judge panel on the Ninth District Court of Appeals issued a unanimous decision to uphold a 2019 ruling by Lorain County Judge John Miraldi, who initially awarded the bakery more than $40 million in punitive and compensatory damages, Cleveland.com reported. However, the sum was later reduced to $25 million, though the bakery was awarded more than $6 million for lawyers’ fees.
Gibson’s Bakery sued the college in 2017, accusing the school and one of its administrators of hurting its business and libeling it over an incident in which the son of the bakery owner stopped three black Oberlin College students, one of whom was stealing wine bottles from the store, in November 2016.
Students from the school protested the bakery after the arrest, handing out fliers outside the shop telling patrons to shop elsewhere. The fliers also accused the Gibsons of having a long history of racial profiling, citing the November 2016 incident, according to Legal Insurrection. Witnesses who testified at the trial said Oberlin College Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo participated in the protests, handing out stacks of fliers for others to distribute.
Oberlin College regularly purchased baked goods from the bakery for its student dining service but suspended its purchasing for a month after the incident.
The Gibsons denied any wrongdoing and asked for a public apology from the college to repair the reputational damage done to the bakery, though it has never received one, according to the report.
The students pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in 2017 and said Allyn Gibson’s actions were not racially motivated.
Oberlin College and Raimando appealed Miraldi’s 2019 ruling, seeking to overturn the compensatory and punitive damage awards, while Gibson’s Bakery challenged the ruling, looking to restore the initial $33 million punitive damages award. The bakery argued the Ohio tort reform reduction was unconstitutional.
Owen Rarric, an attorney for the Gibsons, responded to the appeals court’s decision in a statement to Legal Insurrection: “The Gibson family appreciates the Court of Appeals’ thorough and thoughtful analysis which rightly rejected all of Oberlin College’s and Dean Raimondo’s challenges on appeal.”
Oberlin Director of Media Relations Scott Wargo said in a statement that the college is “obviously disappointed” about the ruling.
“We are reviewing the Court’s opinion carefully as we evaluate our options and determine next steps,” Wargo told the blog.
“In the meantime, we recognize that the issues raised by this case have been challenging, not only for the parties involved in the lawsuit, but for the entire Oberlin community,” the statement added. “We remain committed to strengthening the partnership between the College, the City of Oberlin and its residents, and the downtown business community. We will continue in that important work while remaining focused on our core educational mission.”