Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College: Local Issues, National Angers

Gibson’s Bakery, Oberlin, OH (Photo: Steve Volk)

When a jury awarded more than $33 million in punitive damages to Gibson’s Bakery and the Gibson family in its suit against Oberlin College, its action didn’t simply indicate the jurors’ desire to “make the college pay” for the injury ostensibly done to a local merchant. It traveled considerably beyond that since, as the plaintiff’s accountant had testified, Gibson’s Bakery calculated it only stood to lose some $2.8 million over the next 30 years, due to the claimed harm.* Rather, the preposterous size of the jury’s award was evidence that the case long since had leapt over its modest origins in an alleged shoplifting. In many ways, the Gibson’s-Oberlin conflict had become a national billboard on which the fault lines splintering the country were sadly advertised.

Gibson’s sells everything from donuts to the New York Times, the one item which brings me into the store daily. But it was wine that launched this cascade of trouble when an underaged Black student allegedly walked out with two unpaid-for bottles on November 9, 2016. Actually, as the police bodycam video indicates, the wine never left the store. (For one eyewitness account of what happened that night, fast forward to 6:55-8:27 on the video.) In any case, as the student left the store, Allyn Gibson, Jr., the grandson and son of the store’s owners who was working the register, pursued him across the street. City police ultimately arrested the student along with two of his friends, after a tussle which began in the store and which, according to the student eyewitnesses, was initiated by Gibson. (The police report of the event inexplicably excluded testimony from the three students involved as well as the student eyewitnesses who placed the first call to the police.)

News of the arrests spread quickly to the nearby campus, sparking a peaceful protest in front of the store the following day. One leaflet handed out by students described the store as a “RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION.” Students began to boycott the store and, some days later, the college suspended its traditional order of bagels and donuts as college officials pledged to “determine the full and true narrative” of what had happened that night. The college resumed its purchases less than a month later.


Photo by Bryan Rubin, Oberlin Review

Now, it is quite possible that had this incident occurred a year before, or even a week before, little would have come of it. But November 9 was the day following Donald Trump’s unsettling victory, and many students were feeling exceptionally raw. On this particular November 9, for many students I would imagine, Gibson’s became the nearest target within walking distance against which they could express their anger at the racism which, in their view, had led not only to the mistreatment of their peers, but was tightly bound up with Trump’s electoral victory. A small, hometown store with its own particular complement of virtues and flaws – over the years, students of color had raised similar complaints about the store – would come to stand in for all that, in the protesters’ view, had just gone off the rails in the country.

The three students charged in the case would plead guilty to attempted theft and aggravated trespass in August 2017. They paid a fine, and, as a required part of the agreement, stipulated that Allyn Gibson’s actions on the night of the incident were not racially motivated. That the case was still moving ahead at that point was a surprise since, in December 2016, the student initially charged in the incident, Jonathan Aladin, had reached an agreement with the Gibsons to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of attempted theft. End of story… Except that the Oberlin Municipal Court judge overseeing the proceedings, Thomas Januzzi, in a highly unusual move, refused to accept the plea bargain. Instead, he insisted that the case be brought before a county grand jury where the charges against Aladin were raised to felony level. As the Oberlin City prosecutor said at the time in what would prove to be a tragic understatement, “The situation has created a certain amount of ill-will among segments of our community.” If the students saw the Gibson’s alleged racist practices as a stand-in for much larger racist incidents roiling the country, the judge also appeared to see the case as the vehicle through which he could deliver a much larger message about students at (all) liberal colleges and how they interact with the (often) more traditional environments in which they are located. His message: he wouldn’t let Oberlin College bully the merchants, even if the merchants appeared ready to settle. The court, he said, “is concerned about the potential precedent setting of permitting a business owner under these circumstances to assent to such an agreement where such a serious crime is alleged.” (You might, at this point, want to remind yourself of the exact nature of this “serious” crime.)

Almost a year later, Gibson’s would file its civil case against the college and Meredith Raimondo, the dean of students, charging them with libel, slander, infliction of emotional distress, interference with business relationships, interference with contracts, deceptive trade practices, negligent hiring and trespass. This, despite the fact that, as the student newspaper recently pointed out, “Whatever you think of the protests and boycott of Gibson’s, the responsibility for them lies squarely with students…[who] continue to openly take ownership of their actions.” Nearly three years after the initial incident, a Lorain County jury drawn from this economically distressed stretch of northeastern Ohio whose better days in steel and auto production are firmly in the rearview mirror, would find for the Gibsons, awarding them $11 million in compensatory damages.

Nor did it end there, for here was yet another opportunity to fasten national grievances onto local targets.

“What does it take for a company worth $1 billion to know you care,” Lee Plakas, the plaintiffs’ attorney, asked the jury in his closing arguments in the punitive damage phase of the suit. The jurors’ additional award of $33 million – more than Ohio code actually authorizes – would demonstrate just how much they cared. The Gibsons’ lawyers, urging the jury to read larger lessons into this case, encouraged the jurors to send a message to this “billion dollar company” that lay within their reach. Oberlin College would be made to stand in for those responsible for the humiliation and economic devastation of small-town America. As Plakas put it, in this case of “national importance,” the wealth of the college has “gotta be relevant now.”

Oberlin, of course, is not a “company” but a nationally ranked college and conservatory of music where many students not only identify with the school’s progressive past as the first interracial and coeducational college in the United States, but insist that this past continue to inform the present. Over the years, this has created tensions not only between students and administrators, but between the college and the town whose residents can be more conservative than the students, and are certainly less wealthy than many of the families of those attending the college.

Image result for mercy allen memorial hospital oberlinThe college has not been blind to these town-gown frictions. Over the years, among other acts, it laid out $2 million to purchase a local hospital on the verge of bankruptcy, then leased it back to a new medical center for $1 a year so that local residents and students wouldn’t have to travel 30 minutes to an urgent care center. It offers free tuition to Oberlin High School students who are admitted to the college. It donated $225,000 to the Oberlin Fire Department to help them buy new equipment. Its students partner with local schools and volunteer in many community agencies, and its alumni run many successful local businesses. This past August, the college introduced a new orientation program designed to help students consider more fully what it means to be town residents. Caring, in other words, is more complicated, and has been more reciprocal, than lawyer Plakas suggested.

But this history and the inescapable truth that the town and the college are co-dependent were absent during the proceedings, and certainly were not reflected in the jury’s decisions. The millions awarded to the Gibsons – certain to be trimmed down on appeal – will take a dramatic toll on the college which, like so many others, is financially squeezed despite its endowment. It will only increase the likelihood that staff, many of whom live in town and shop in its stores, will be laid off. Yet I hear no indication of this mutual dependence when I pick up my paper at Gibson’s. What I hear, rather, is talk of how the store should wring everything possible out of their “rich” neighbor. What I hear are the casual remarks from a customer cashing out in front of me. He was buying a newly minted brown baseball hat sporting the Gibson’s logo (“Since 1885”). “This is to show my solidarity with Gibson’s against the haters,” he pronounced. I wasn’t sure who the “haters” were; maybe I was seen as one of them because I could find no joy, and only sadness, in the jury’s verdict.

When town-gown tensions surface in a village the size of Oberlin (population 8,000), there is always a chance, and certainly a hope, that through conversation, serious listening, and open communication these issues can be resolved, addressed, or, at the very least, have some of their sharper edges sanded down. But when local conflicts become proxies for national resentments and anger, when they leave our small, far-from-idyllic town and are teleported to a national stage, these fleeting opportunities evaporate.

Conservatives, increasingly suspicious of institutions of higher education, will see in the jury’s outlandish award a long sought-after weapon to hit colleges and universities where it hurts them most, in their pocketbooks. Colleges, already threatened by President Trump with a loss of federal funds if they don’t punish students for blocking the free speech rights of outside speakers, now will be staring at multimillion dollar civil actions if they don’t curb their own students’ free speech. That, after all, animated the Gibsons’ legal action: Oberlin College was made responsible for its students’ speech, even though the college did not create, endorse or condone the protest flyer that was at the heart of the lawsuit. Welcome to the upside down world. You know you have arrived when the plaintiff’s lawyer, summing up for the jury, puts forward virtually the same argument that, when advanced by students seeking to protect members of their own community from racist, homophobic or anti-Semitic invective, has led to their being ridiculed as “precious snowflakes.” “Defamatory words in our country,” Plakas told the jury, “have become weapons as damaging as guns that shoot bullets.”

The jury’s decision in the Gibson’s suit will not heal the town, does not offer a way forward, and will make it even harder for the town and Oberlin College – working together as they should – to address the very real issues that plague us:  the income inequality that increasingly has hollowed out Lorain County and so much of the country, the sense of entitlement that underlies the actions of some students at elite colleges like Oberlin, and yes, the racism that blights town and college alike. Sadly, I’ll now buy my paper elsewhere.

*The Gibsons, it should be noted, claimed a total loss of $5.8 million, which, besides losses at the store and bakery (which has always been central to the case), included projected losses to their rental properties and not being able to follow through on a plan to build more apartment buildings. The College’s attorney called these figures “overstated, inaccurate, [and] speculative,” while noting that Gibson’s had been seeing their revenues decline since 2010. [Addition added June 21, 2019 at 8:42 AM]

(Full disclosure if you didn’t already know: I am Professor of History Emeritus at Oberlin College, where I taught between 1986-2016 and directed the Center for Teaching Innovation and Excellence.)




47 thoughts on “Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College: Local Issues, National Angers

  1. This is the most helpful reflection on this issue I have seen. Grounded in truth, it provides the context for the incident and exposes the divisive effect of the litigation itself and of the jury’s verdict and awards. I could not be sadder about this. Linda Gates, Dean of Students Emerita

    Liked by 1 person

      • My answer (and sorry to sound like such a professor here – we know what that’s about!) has to do with how you use “gratuitously” and “punish.” In terms of the second (and assuming you’re referring to the College’s actions), the standing order for bagels and donuts was suspended while the college officials tried to figure out what was going on — exactly what everybody’s role was, etc. When that was determined, the order was reinstated until Gibson’s filed its suit against Oberlin. (This doesn’t negate your question, but for most of the time the order was suspended, students were away on winter break and Winter Term.) As far as “gratuitously,” the word means “without cause,” and — going with the above point — one could argue that there was cause to take some action (suspend the order) until it was determined that the order should be resumed. I know this sounds like a lot of hair splitting, and I don’t mean to take away from the seriousness of your question, but in a “rational” world — wherever that may be — we could look at the business Gibson’s lost during the suspension of the order (I’m going to guess perhaps $100,000 as a generous figure?) and then try to figure out how we get to $44 million from there.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You ignore the internal e-mail in which an administrator vowed to go after Gibson’s in a year. You know, for a group of people who are supposed to be so smart, Oberlin’s administrators sure are stupid. The more I think about it, the more I ascribe it to the arrogance and stupidity of so many of they who live on inherited wealth — in this case, a $1 billion endowment and a world-class art collection worth at least hundreds of millions. These people act as if they are above the law. Well, guess what? They’re not. Dang.


      • I think the specific phrase was that an administrator planned to “rain fire and brimstone” on Gibson’s. And you’re calling out Gibson’s and the jury for punishing Oberlin?!


      • I’m sorry I wasn’t clear. By gratuitously punish Gibson’s I’m referring to the last sentence of the blog: Sadly I’ll now buy my paper elsewhere. I don’t see how this action follows from what is a good description of the whole sequence of events.


  2. I’m a dad of an Oberlin grad (2010)
    She sent me Professor Volk’s post and I sent her this response.

    Thanks for forwarding the excellent piece on the Gibson’s Bakery case. It was very helpful in understanding the back story of this awful verdict.
    Hindsight is 20/20 but it’s hard not to ask the question of whether the trajectory of this thing might have been different if Oberlin and its lawyers had immediately responded with Professor Volk’s depth of understanding to prevent the incident from morphing into an out of control freight train.
    What this jury did evokes memories of the OJ Simpson verdict based not on evidence but a community’s long simmering resentment skillfully inflamed by trial lawyers.
    The impact of this case feels like the way the Democratic Party and Hillary were unable to conceal their tone deaf snooty view of Trump’s base as “deplorables” while ignoring the anti- elite hostility in the heartland where the economy has been hollowed out by poverty wage jobs and crumbling infrastructure. The country now faces the terrifying possibility that the lessons of 2016 may not have been learned.
    Hopefully the appeal will be successful. Outside of the courtroom the process of extracting lessons from the Gibson verdict must include an unflinching exploration of how things might have gone differently.


    • I know the law of defamation pretty well, having studied it in a top journalism school. I am not well-versed in civil procedure or appeals. From everything I’ve read, it seems to me that the judgment will be bulletproof. If the college is dumb enough to take it to the Ohio Supreme Court, I expect them to lose there.

      Thus far, I have seen no indications whatsoever that Oberlin has learned a single thing. They continue to try to brazen it out. They’d better be careful not to repeat the defamation as they do so. Everything they say publicly about that verdict will be carefully examined. From here on out, they’d better listen to their lawyers.


  3. Thank you for this excellent piece.

    I understand who the customer meant by the “haters”. If protesters surrounded my store, chanted that I was a racist, boycotted my store, and triggered the suspension of a contract I was depending on because I chased after someone I thought stole from me, I would feel hated.

    I don’t know if the complaints about the Gibsons mentioned in this post have merit. When I spoke to a student on campus about it, the evidence asserted was vague at best, despite the student’s firm conviction of bias on the Gibsons’ part. In any event, I can certainly see how the customer would see the students’ actions as unfair and disproportionate – I know I did.

    Nevertheless, the College is not responsible for the actions of students, who were exercising their first amendment rights, and who are, after all, college students in the process of learning how to express themselves politically. Furthermore, the size of the judgment is absurd. The jury’s finding saddens me, as does what it says about the state of the nation.

    As an Oberlin alumnus, it saddens me too that relations between Gibson’s, the local community, and the student body are at such a low point. I hope, over time, fences can be mended in Oberlin, and in America, and we can treat each other with more respect and understanding, and less easy outrage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you desire “healing,” the start should be in dealing with an open secret within Oberlin, as chronicled by “The Grape,” their own student magazine: a longstanding “culture of thievery” among the privileged, pampered students there. That’s where all of this started. The trial record makes it clear to anyone who bothers to read it. Now, will the apologists deal with the actual problem, or will they continue to hide behind entirely bogus claims of the “first amendment?”

      Kids, the first amendment lets you say and publish what you want, but it is NOT a shield against libel verdicts. Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the law of defamation knows it. You can tell yourselves any lies you want to, but Oberlin is on the hook for $25 million and counting. I suggest writing the check sooner rather than later, because the interest will begin accumulating soon.


  4. Sorry, with the deepest respect, as a former student, I feel you’ve missed the key point.

    The college DID provide direction and support for the protests. A dean of students spoke about “unleashing” students against perceived enemies. The college provided material support for the protesters including copying flyers. The college’s claim to the contrary is, to the best of my knowledge, false.

    There is another key element to this which isn’t being addressed: the fact that the administrations (Krislov and Ambar) pursued the legal situation with a strategy that can only be called disastrous at best and complicit in supporting the Gibsons case at worst.

    The administrations got themselves into this situation through the actions of Raimondo and others. No one has taken responsibility. And now, when faced with a crippling judgment, instead of admitting fault, the college is doubling down on a false “free speech” narrative that is irrelevant to the true issues at hand: administration malfeasance and incompetence.

    Raimondo should have been fired long ago and should be now. Krislov should be held to account for this (and his financial mismanagement) and his million dollar bonus clawed back.

    I had been optimistic about President Ambar but after this episode and her performance on the alumni call, I am no longer optimistic. I feel she likely lacks the moral authority and pragmatism needed to help fix a school that is in serious jeopardy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate your comments, Christopher, and the respectful manner in which you put them forward. My role (if any) here is not to defend or critique the actors in this matter — and you are certainly entitled to your own views on that. But I will try to help readers arrive at a better understanding of how a case of shoplifting, arrests, and protest could lead to a truly unbelievable award of $44 million to a small bakery. At the same time, as a historian, I will try to correct errors of fact if I see them. When you note that the “dean of students spoke about ‘unleashing’ students…” in the context of providing “direction and support for the protests,” readers should be aware that the email in question — as ill-advised as it was — came nine months after the incidents, so it is hard to see how it aided the protest. Further, in her sworn testimony, Meredith observed that, rather than “handing out flyers” at the event,” the only flyer she provided was pulled from her pocket and handed to a reporter from the Oberlin News-Trib (Jason Hawk) who asked her what was going on. Further, she testified (under oath), that at the request of student protesters, she spoke on a bullhorn at the protest only once in order “to identify herself to the protesters to let them know she was there to act as a liaison between the students and community.” As a final point of clarification, I would respectfully beg to disagree about the importance of “free speech” issues, given that these have NOW become the heart of a conservative attack on Oberlin as well as other colleges and universities. As that issue requires much more attention, I’ll be writing about it soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Healing, you say. I agree. The healing was the $25 million pared-down judgment, with legal fees yet to be added. This is America, and in America a lot of “healing” involves a bandage infused with money. That’s how it’s always been done. Who knew that “progressives” would have to supply the ointment?

    I am a former professional journalist, well-acquainted with the basics of defamation. It was a textbook case. The trial record shows that Oberlin’s administrators were neck deep in this. I urge anyone who’s interested to review the record. The facts are clear as the proverbial bell. Oberlin will have to “heal” their offense with $25 million plus legal costs. The idea that the college was uninvolved in the students’ outrageous libel is directly contradicted by the trial record. You can spin it any way you want to, but that will not change the outcome.

    From having read a huge amount of that record, I conclude that this was rooted in what Oberlin’s own student magazine (“The Grape”) called a longstanding “culture of theft” among Oberlin’s privileged and arrogant student body. For decades, stealing from local merchants was a kind of game. Different merchants handled it differently; Gibson’s bakery took the straightforward approach. They apprehended student thieves and called the police.

    The thief in question, a black Oberlin student, and his friends, decided that they would instigate a physical confrontation. That didn’t end so well. The thief was charged with a felony, and pleaded guilty. Was the thief lying? The “healing,” besides the $25+ million judgment, should involve the forthright admission that a whole lot of Oberlin students have been thieves, and for a long time, passing along the consequences of their five-finger discounts to honest students and townspeople.

    Heal? Heal thyselves, Oberlin thieves. In the meantime, dig deep and pay. If that means a hit to the endowment, and to future contributions, I suggest filing your complaints in front of the nearest mirror. You did this to yourselves. Stop evading your responsibilities as adults. You are accountable for your actions, and so are the irresponsible college administrators who coddled you for far too long.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It appears that you and I just missed each other. Although the College graciously considers me part of the Class of 1989, my one and only year at the institution I dearly love was 1985-86. Let’s just call it transfer shock on a massive scale. (But it wasn’t all bad; I did meet my future husband back home in Florida.)

    I’ve been wanting to attend a reunion because I do remember a few people there; my roommate became my maid of honor, and I also keep in touch with a friend who’s part of my cluster. After I left Oberlin, I got a two-year degree in journalism and took some further classes at the University of Florida, which at the time was the best journalism school in Florida.

    So I went back to the beginning of this story, as I do when I’m reporting. And I watched some of the police bodycam footage, and while I still feel like I don’t have all the facts at my command, it does seem to me like $44 million for attempted shoplifting (and battery) is a little out of hand. The “culture of theft” thing is news to me (I saw another story citing The Grape, but that’s it); maybe if I had stayed longer, I would have witnessed it. Or maybe it didn’t exist in 1985-86.

    I need a clearer read on the issue of Gibson’s being racist. Obies always struck me as very intelligent, so it’s hard to believe that they would protest without cause. But certainly the first article on the Chronicle-Telegram website gave me the impression that this was a case of a shoplifter (who happened to be black). This was the first story I found:

    Anyway, all this is to say hi, thanks for this thoughtful account, and I hope to read more (but only to understand this issue). It breaks my heart that Oberlin is making news in this way. I’ve been telling people for years what a wonderful place it was. It’s sad.


  7. The $44 million verdict (since reduced to $25 million on account of tort reform passed by the Evil Republicans) was not for shoplifting. It was for defamation committed by Oberlin’s administrators. You think Oberlin students are “too intelligent” to protest without cause? I suggest that you look at their racism hoax of 2013. I don’t think they are intelligent enough to protest for a legitimate reason.

    In any case, the verdict is entered, and the attorney’s fees will be added later this month. If Oberlin wants to know who’s responsible, Oberlin should collectively stroll to the nearest mirror and have a good, hard, honest look at who they see there.


  8. I washed dishes in Dascomb dining hall from ’87-’89 to make spending money. Most of that cash wound up in the Tap House or the Rat. I don’t recall setting foot in Gibson’s. The dish room was a funny place because it was right next to the kitchen but still isolated from it. You could work there and have almost zero interaction with the professional staff. Still, you couldn’t help but notice that the custodians were black men, the cooks were black women, and the manager was a white man. Our student manager said they all referred to the college as “the plantation”. There was a guy who worked at the physical plant who paid me $25 a piece to paint portraits of his kids, because he thought a student could do it cheaply and I was trying to learn. The custodian at the Allen art building used to come through the studios at the same time every day to sweep and empty the trash cans and we always said hello. It felt like it meant something. It probably means more that I can remember his limp but not his name. Maybe it was Gregory.
    Outside of this, I’m having a hard time recalling any exchanges with locals. A college town is a bit like a resort town: the tourists have a way of being arrogant and superior and acting like they own the place. Or maybe they just have blinders on. Their experience is what’s important. The locals are supposed to cater (literally) to that. As I read alumni comments in various threads, I’m struck by how pervasive that attitude still is, at least for certain individuals. Their allegiance to Oberlin has to do with Oberlin College, and their formative experience there. The town? Gibson’s? The facts of this case? Those are all busboys and chairlift operators. Conversely, Obies all need to be sent back to Andover, or wherever they think we came from. I don’t know how you break down that kind of synecdoche.
    It sounds like the college screwed this one up by suspending the contract (and yes, we can minimize the dollar value, the duration, or downplay the administration’s intent, but it’s still a boneheaded move that implicates them in financial retaliation). By contrast, I was heartened to read the things you wrote about their other ways of being a good community partner. Thank you for your perspective.


    • When I was in college, I drove a cab for a couple years. Not only was it good money, but it got me away from campus. It was one of the enjoyments of the job, to see the whole city and not just the campus bubble


  9. Thank you for this excellent piece. I chose to write about the Gibson’s case for a Legal Issues class in my M.A., so I’ve been scouring the web for anything written about the whole ordeal. I didn’t end up using your piece in my argument (disagreeing with the heavy-handed defamation charge, agreeing with tortuous interference) but it was certainly my favorite among all I’ve read.

    The way this case was manufactured into conservative outrage culture was saddening, and I’m glad you noted the irony that the defamation ruling here will cut both ways if allowed to stand. As of today, the only real winner I see is those clickbait sites. Oberlin has a massive fee to pay, and whatever Gibson’s takes home in lump sum, they’ve lost a reliable customer base. I’d like nothing more than to hear of a settlement where the College takes less of a hit in exchange for resuming patronage with the bakery, but that will require everyone involved tuning out the outrage machine.

    Thanks again for the post, and I’ll be subscribing for any future ones.


    • Oberlin will never forgive Gibson’s, and Gibson’s would not be so stupid as to make a significantly smaller settlement in the hope of future business. That would be like the video where Lucy promises to hold the football for Charlie Brown and pulls it away — over and over again. A ruling like this doesn’t cause healing. It causes justice, but then Gibson’s should probably move and until then be even faster about calling police with any complaints — and watch people more vigilantly. Maybe have an on-duty cop there fulltime.

      The time for Oberlin to make nice to Gibson’s was long ago, when Gibson’s wanted a favorable public statement from them.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I was a professional journalist for 12 years, and attended one of the top journalism schools in the United States. Along the way, I studied the law of mass communications, which hasn’t changed in any material way since the 1970s. The flyers were a textbook example of libel, and the university acted both as a publisher and a distributor.

      By refusing Gibson’s request for a statement on the store’s behalf, the college threw away any chance of mitigating the damages. By ending its business relationship, Oberlin laid the groundwork for damages. And those internal e-mails were utterly devastating for the college.

      Bottom line: You could not be more erroneous about the “heavy handed defamation charge.” Oberlin College not only dug their hole, but from everything I can see they still haven’t stopped. The hubris, and quite frankly, the outright stupidity, is truly amazing to me. This is going to be very costly for Oberlin. Not just the damages and attorney’s fees, but in terms of lost alumni support and reduced future student enrollment.

      If Oberlin is looking for villains here, they should stroll over to the nearest mirror. The first amendment allows anyone to say and publish what they want, but it is not any kind of blank check to commit defamation. For people who seem to think they are so smart, there have been some mighty stupid folks running Oberlin College.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The reason I disagree with the defamation charges is that I don’t believe anyone, Oberlin or its students, made statements of fact but simply statements of opinion. If the materials that appeared in the trial are defamatory, then virtually all discourse both left (racist!) and right (anti-white!) is defamatory. The poster did not say “Gibson’s has an undue amount of black people arrested” which would be a false statement of fact. It presented an opinion that racism animated the Gibsons. A ridiculous opinion, but an opinion nonetheless.

        I agree that the College acted arrogantly and should have worked harder to craft a statement with Gibson’s and put the matter to rest. Their arrogance likely persuaded the jury to issue this ruling; a bad ruling with huge potential for overreach.


      • The flyer made specific false accusations, and used them to support a calumny unsupported by any testimony at trial. The college employed its facilities and personnel to spread the accusations, and then followed up with actions designed to injure the bakery’s business.

        The first amendment recognizes someone’s right to express pretty much anything they want, but it does not shield someone from the consequences of defamation. To characterize any of this as a first amendment matter is a pathetic exercise in duplicity and self-parody. This was a defamation case straight out of the textbooks; Oberlin will pay the judgment, and if they have two brain cells to rub together they’ll do it fast, before the interest starts accruing.

        Who knew that “progressives” can wind up being in the wrong? Certainly not they themselves. We can call it a very expensive lesson with far-reaching, long-term consequences for Oberlin College. They made their bed, and now they can lie in it.


  10. The guys on the bodycam video saying supportive things about Aladin, never submitted the statements that police invited them to write (also on the video). I guess they didn’t want to be guilty of lying in a sworn statement.


    • Many of those commenting on Oberlin’s behalf either have not read the trial record, or have pretended not to. They are going on the college’s pathetic “FAQ,” which the plaintiffs rebutted in devastating and thoroughly-documented fashion. At the trial, the college had the opportunity to present evidence that Gibson’s had engaged in the practices claimed by the flyer, but declined to do so.

      And yes, the students who wanted to support the thieves had the opportunity to make statements to the police, but declined to do so. Game, set, match. Cough it up, Oberlin. By the way, those who think the charges against the thief and his accomplices were too harsh should know that their opinion + $3 buys a cup of coffee at Starbucks. What matters is that they entered guilty pleas, accompanied by statements that Gibson’s is not a racist business. The rest doesn’t matter one single bit.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Actually, no, they didn’t get to present evidence. Because the judge didn’t allow anyone to testify to that effect, despite the plaintiffs getting to trot out tons of random testimony that the Gibson’s were not racist. Conservative site Legal Insurrection touches on it here: They spin it as keeping the trial ‘non-political,’ but again, that never seemed to get applied to the other side.

        “The rest” doesn’t matter only if you’re here to claim this case as a victory in some culture war. If you’re interested in justice being served, of course it does.


      • The political opinions of student-thieves weren’t evidence, as much as you’d like them to be. Funny that you’d selectively and misleadingly cite a right-wing website. In any case, it was Oberlin that kept those students from testifying.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Testimony is testimony. Having the shoplifters testify would have been a terrible idea, of course. Which is why if you’d read the link, you might be aware that Oberlin wasn’t asking for the shoplifters to testify, but for other students as well as a staff member to give their own experiences with Gibson’s. If there was no scrap of racial bias among the Gibsons, such testimony should have been easy to discredit. But now we’ll never know.

        Your eagerness to tar the whole college for the actions of a few makes your ideology really obvious. Unfortunately, according to Judge Miraldi, I’m not allowed to draw any conclusions about it. 😉


      • Oberlin was never barred from having students testify on its behalf. The judge said testimony would have to concern the issues at trial and not the students’ free-form political yammering. At that point, Oberlin decided not to put the kids on the stand, likely because they’d have had nothing to say. Unfortunately for the college in this, the judge didn’t let Oberlin turn a defamation case into a political circus.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. This FAQ lays out the case against Oberlin as it was tried in court. It’s well worth reading, an easy way to familiarize oneself with the important elements of the judgements against Oberlin, and see all the evidence that the jury saw,

    Click to access FAQs-re-Gibsons-Bakery-v.-Oberlin-College.pdf

    Sir, it is worth mentioning that the extremely high punitive damages are meant to act as a deterrent, so that in future the College may remember this episode and refrain from such conduct. You will see, when you study in detail all the evidence from the trial, that there were numerous malicious actions on the part of Oberlin College to damage this business and the reputation of this family.

    As yet no evidence of racism has been produced by anyone—only dark allusions, repeated even after these verdicts by President Ambar on local and national news, dark allusions to some unnamed persons’ “lived experience”. These complaints of an uncertain nature, by people hidden in the shadows, cannot be defended against. Where is the moral courage on the part of these wronged individuals to stand up and speak out? What is the precise nature of their complaints? Could it be that there is no substance to these allegations? Cruel treatment indeed, and yet it continues.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That plaintiff’s rebuttal to Oberlin’s duplicitous post-trial defense is utterly devastating to the college. It is required reading for anyone brave enough to want to actually understand why the jury ruled as it did. The punitive damages were as high as they were because the compensatory damages were so high. The compensatory damages were so high because Oberlin and its students visited a rein of terror on that store, and quite open tried to ruin the business and the family.

      There was never any evidence of racist attitudes or practices by the Gibsons. It was a big lie from the start, and is being perpetuated by the school and its defenders. It is a vivid example of “progressive” morality, or more to the point the lack of morality, at work. If they had only uttered the simple words, “We were wrong. We are sorry,” Oberlin wouldn’t be in the straits they now face.

      It’s not just going to be $25 million + attorneys fees. It will be future reduced enrollments, reduced contributions, and reduced educational quality for those students who remain. None of this ever had to happen. That it did was entirely the result of Oberlin’s arrogance and irresponsibility. No one else is at fault. If Oberlin and its defenders want to see a villain, they should find the nearest mirror.


    • Not only does it continue, but it is actionable, especially in light of of the past history. Oberlin College is walking on the hairy edge of being sued again. Personally, because I have empathy for the people of Oberlin community collectively, I would like to see the college salvaged. I have an extensive upper management background (now retired), both working for others and as an entrepreneur. To successfully manage a business, one has to have a very broad background, including in law.

      As one commenter pointed out, Oberlin College made a staggering number of gross mistakes. They were dumb & arrogant enough to leave a rich paper trail. In the corporate world which I come from, people who screw up this much are fired.

      Oberlin College actually got away with not having to pay for the costs of reputation restoration, and if they are sued again they will probably be straddled with those costs and enhanced damages, likely costing far more than $25 million.

      Those who want to save the college need to drive a management house cleaning, and to fix long term bleeding, they need to get rid of majors related to political correctness. Beyond that, if they want to improve employability of graduates, they need to make sure that they are technically literate.


  12. Please go and review the facts as they were presented in court. You, as well as many others on that side of the isle, still can not seem to grasp the fact that the words and actions of the students were actually withheld from being considered by the court. The judgement was specifically for actions taken by the university and nothing else was considered.


  13. This was not about imputed student defamation charged to OC; it was about imputed defamation directly charged to OC because of the actions of its officers.

    Your claim that this is Gibson’s jumping into some national conservative backlash is, IMO, also incorrect. There was clear testimony that Gibsons, through its officers, requested a public statement by OC that Gibson’s wasn’t a racist organization. OC refused and Gibson’s testified they, as a result, had no other route than to sue.

    That should be obvious I think.

    Finally, (and I’m aware several have already made this point but it needs repeating) OC was NOT “found guilty” because of students’ speech. That is a very specious and dangerous allegation. OC was found guilty directly as a result of its own officers’ defamatory speech and actions connected there with.


  14. One other thing. It was the school that decided not to call student witnesses. Some people have explained this as because the judge wouldn’t let them testify. Assuming that is correct and assuming the college wanted the students testimony, then the college should have called them. If the judge still refused to allow them to testify, the college’s attorneys, outside the hearing of the jury, would then present an offer of proof- a statement as to what the students would say if allowed to testify. Thus the college would have protected and preserved this as an appealable issue. They didn’t. So my assumption is that the testimony would not have helped OC at least in the opinion of OC’s attorneys.


  15. And to Mr. Steven Fox: The use of an offer of proof (given with the jury sequestered) has really two goals. 1. To put into the record what testimony you had wanted your excluded witness to produce; and 2. To enlighten the judge (who IS sitting there and listening) as to what the testimony would be. Not always but at least sometimes, upon hearing the proffered testimony, the judge will change his mind and call the jury back into the courtroom and let the witness testify.

    Again all I can deduce from OC’s lawyers not at least attempting an offer of proof is that they did not value very highly whatever their own witnesses would say.

    One last thought: I thought this judge did a superb job in the case. Quite impressive.


  16. By the way, Oberlin’s claim of poverty in arguing against damages was an outrageous lie. They have a $1 billion endowment, and that doesn’t include an extensive art collection worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Oberlin College is filthy rich, and like a whole lot of other filthy rich people and institutions, it is as arrogant as arrogant ever gets.


  17. Pingback: After the Gibson’s Verdict: What Is at Stake | After Class

  18. Pingback: Where Does Democratic Engagement Fit on Your Syllabus? | After Class

  19. Pingback: Oberlin, Whose Oberlin? | After Class

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