The bakery-owning family that won a $32.5 million defamation suit against Oberlin College is accusing the famously left-wing school of trying to string the case along until an owner dies of cancer.
In a video posted Tuesday to Facebook, Dave Gibson said he had been diagnosed “late last year” with pancreatic cancer, a fact he said Oberlin has known since February.
However in June, Oberlin College President Carmen Twillie Ambar sent an email telling ‘the Oberlin Community” that the school will not immediately pay the judgment and seeks to lengthen the legal process.
“Let me be absolutely clear: This is not the final outcome. This is, in fact, just one step along the way of what may turn out to be a lengthy and complex legal process,” she said.
In Tuesday’s video, Mr. Gibson said the promise of a lengthy court fight came as a warning to family members who may not be around for much longer.
“Recent public statements from Oberlin College make it clear that the college is refusing to accept the jury’s decision. The college has stated that the verdict is just the beginning of a long legal process. I believe they’re sending a clear message to me and to my 91-year-old dad that they will just wait us out,” he said.
In a Wednesday statement, Ms. Ambar made no comment about the allegations but offered her sympathies.
“Oberlin College wishes Dave Gibson well as he battles pancreatic cancer,” she said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family during this difficult time.”
The owners of Gibson’s Bakery, a fixture in the college town since 1885, had sued Oberlin in 2017 for libel, business interference and emotional distress after being beset by demonstrators over a shoplifting incident in November 2016. The Gibsons argued successfully that the college had aided student attacks against the bakery for purported racism (all three admitted shoplifters were black) in part by allowing the use of campus resources for a student government resolution condemning Gibson’s and accusing owners of “a long history of racial profiling.”
In addition, Oberlin Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo handed out an anti-Gibson’s flier to a reporter at a November 2016 rally. The school also cut off its contract with Gibson’s for baked goods at an early stage of the student demonstrations, though it later reversed itself.
Oberlin officials argued that they have an obligation to protect the First Amendment rights of students and that colleges cannot be held responsible for student behavior.
Mr. Gibson said he made the announcement now, because “once the next round of my treatments begin, I know this will be impossible to hide any longer, so I wanted you to hear it from me.”
He also noted that Oberlin had sought to prevent his cancer diagnosis from being raised at trial — proof at a minimum that the college’s lawyers were mindful of the diagnosis and, in at least one matter, tailored their legal strategies accordingly.
“Their legal team filed a motion to prevent any mention of my cancer diagnosis at the trial and honestly, we agreed because I wanted the jury to decide this case on the facts alone. Nothing else,” Mr. Gibson said Tuesday.
Mr. Gibson did not elaborate on the details of his diagnosis, but the American Cancer Society says the one-year survival rate for all stages of pancreatic cancer combined is 20%, and the five-year rate just 7%.
• Valerie Richardson contributed to this report.