- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2019

An Ohio jury awarded Thursday a maximum $33 million in punitive damages to a local bakery targeted by Oberlin College protesters, triple the $11 million in compensatory damages announced in last week’s verdict.

The owners of Gibson’s Bakery, a fixture in the college town since 1885, sued Oberlin in 2017 for libel, business interference and emotional distress after being beset by demonstrators over a shoplifting incident, arguing that the students were aided by the college.

The Thursday decision would bring the total awarded to the Gibson family and business to $44 million, but the punitive award is likely to be reduced to $22 million based on the state cap, which would bring the total to $33 million, according to Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson, whose Legal Insurrection blog has covered the trial in Elyria, Ohio.

He said the Lorain County jury “sent a message that all lives matter, including the lives of ordinary working people who did nothing wrong other than stop people from stealing.”

“Oberlin College tried to sacrifice a beloved 5th-generation bakery, its owners, and its employees, at the altar of political correctness in order to appease the campus ‘social justice warfare’ mob,” Mr. Jacobson said in a statement. “The jury sent a clear message that the truth matters, and so do the reputations and lives of people targeted by false accusations, particularly when those false accusations are spread by powerful institutions.”



The punitive damages awarded by the jury were assessed against Oberlin and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo, according to the [Elyria] Chronicle-Telegram.

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.

Attorneys for the bakery said that the college fueled the protests 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.”

Ms. Raimondo was accused of handing out an anti-Gibson’s flier to a reporter at a November 2016 rally.

Early on, Oberlin cut off its contract with Gibson’s for baked good, but later resumed it.

 

 

 

 

The uproar began after three black Oberlin students were arrested for shoplifting at Gibson’s in November 2016, the day after the presidential election.

All three later pleaded guilty to misdemeanors and issued statements absolving the bakery’s owners of racism, but the establishment soon became the target of protests and a student-led boycott.

Oberlin general counsel Donica Thomas Varner said last week that the college was “disappointed” in the verdict and would determine how to proceed.

“As we have stated, colleges cannot be held liable for the independent actions of their students,” Ms. Varner said in a Friday statement. “Institutions of higher education are obligated to protect freedom of speech on their campuses and respect students’ decisions to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights. Oberlin College acted in accordance with these obligations.”

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