A judge has awarded about $6.5 million in attorney’s fees and court costs to Gibson’s Bakery, the family-owned Ohio doughnut shop that won a $25 million judgment against Oberlin College over protests accusing the business of racism.
Lorain County Judge John Miraldi made the ruling on fees Wednesday, bringing the total award against Oberlin to nearly $32 million. Oberlin attorneys have indicated that they plan to appeal, according to the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram.
Last month, Gibson’s Bakery won a $44 million jury verdict for libel and wrongful business interference over Oberlin’s involvement in student protests that labeled the bakery racist after three black students were arrested for shoplifting in November 2016.
The $44 million judgment was later reduced to $25 million under Ohio’s tort-cap law, but the enormous award has fueled a debate over the responsibility of colleges in protecting student free speech versus promoting an overheated social-justice protest narrative.
Oberlin president Carmen Twillie Ambar called the verdict’s implications “clear and dangerous.”
“Chris Canavan, the chairman of Oberlin’s Board of Trustees, and I firmly believe the implication of this decision is clear and dangerous: Institutions like Oberlin could have an obligation to control speech in ways that limit the First Amendment rights of those expressing their views,” she said in a Wednesday op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch.
During the six-week trial, attorneys for Gibson’s Bakery argued that Oberlin contributed to the racism narrative by, for example, cutting off and later resuming its contract for baked goods with Gibson’s.
Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo passed out a flyer at a protest accusing the bakery of racism to at least one person, and the college allowed the posting of a student government resolution saying Gibson’s had a “history of racial profiling and discrimination.”
The students arrested for shoplifting later absolved the bakery’s owners of any racism.
“The big takeaway is that this was a case of Oberlin College not seeing the forest for the trees at so many levels,” said Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson on the Legal Insurrection blog, which covered the trial in Elyria, Ohio.
Former Oberlin president S. Frederick Starr, who served from 1983-94, advised the college to “reclaim its better self” by cutting its losses on the “crusade against Gibson’s bakery.”
“Pay the court’s judgment, don’t fight it; apologize to the Gibson family and to the community and take steps to show you mean it; and then calmly think through all that has happened and do whatever is necessary to reaffirm the institution’s identity as a college, not a cause,” he said in a July 5 op-ed for the Wall Street Journal.