Oberlin College has begun paying more than $36 million to Gibson’s Bakery after a legal dispute in which the business said the college slandered it as racist following a shoplifting incident.
The Ohio-based college said it started to pay up after the Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear its appeal of the judgment.
“We are disappointed by the court’s decision. However, this does not diminish our respect for the law and the integrity of our legal system,” Oberlin College stated in a news release on Thursday. “This matter has been painful for everyone. We hope that the end of the litigation will begin the healing of our entire community.”
The payment settles a six-year saga that began in November 2016, when an employee of Gibson’s Bakery chased down a Black male student he believed had stolen a bottle of wine from the store. Two fellow Black students who tried to intervene in the matter were arrested and all three pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges, according to WKYC television.
Yet protests erupted over the arrest. Students handed out flyers accusing the bakery of being racist, with participation by an Oberlin College vice president and dean of students. The college ordered its campus food provider to stop ordering from the bakery and a student resolution condemning the bakery as racist was emailed to students and posted at the student center.
Gibson’s Bakery filed suit in November 2017, accusing the college of slandering it as a “racist establishment,” and a Lorain County jury awarded it $44 million in damages, though a judge reduced it to $25 million.
The $36.59 million payment reflects “awarded damages and accumulated interest, and therefore no further payments are required,” the college said.
The college said it values its relationship with the city of Oberlin and will support local businesses. It also said it can weather the financial impact of the payment.
“The size of this verdict is significant,” the college said. “However, our careful financial planning, which includes insurance coverage, means that we can satisfy our legal obligation without impacting our academic and student experience. It is our belief that the way forward is to continue to support and strengthen the quality of education for our students now and into the future.”