(A very thorough archive of all the Gibson/Oberlin battle can be found at the fantastic Legal Insurrection.)
Oberlin College was hit with a $33.2 million judgment for punitive damages on Thursday in addition to the $11 million in actual or compensatory damages awarded last week after a jury found the college had libeled Gibson’s Bakery, accused it of being racist and interfered with its business. That’s $44 million worth of reasons to think very carefully before universities overindulge their hot-headed, snowflake students.
The lawsuit started back in 2016, when bakery employee and owner Allyn Gibson caught a customer shoplifting.
The lawsuit stems from a November 2016 over a shoplifting incident a student tried to buy alcohol with a fake ID and shoplift items. He was chased from the store by Allyn D. Gibson. The two got into an altercation outside, and two more students joined. The students are black, while the Gibsons are white. Following the incident, other students protested, alleging a pattern of racist behavior by the Gibsons, and the college ended its order for baked goods with the store.
The students involved in the shoplifting incident all pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, and stated their culpability in court while noting Gibson’s reaction was not racially motivated.
Following the incident students mobilized against the bakery claiming the incident was racially motivated and the college joined in with the protests against the business. The college also severed its catering relationship with the bakery.
The jury found the school and Oberlin’s vice president and dean of students, Meredith Raimondo, guilty of libel after Raimondo allegedly helped pass out flyers claiming that the bakery was “racist” and had a history of “racial profiling and discrimination.”
The jury also found that the college (not Raimondo) was guilty of intentional infliction of emotional distress for the owner, David Gibson, as well as libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress on his son.
“Neither Oberlin College nor Dean Meredith Raimondo defamed a local business or its owners, and they never endorsed statements made by others,” Donica Thomas Varner, the college’s general counsel, reportedly said. What about that “helped pass out flyers” part? Is that not some form of endorsement?
“Rather, the college and Dr. Raimondo worked to ensure that students’ freedom of speech was protected and that the student demonstrations were safe and lawful, and they attempted to help the plaintiffs repair any harm caused by the student protests.”
There is no freedom to defame and libel without consequences, that is not protected speech. The fact that the college assisted spreading the student’s message most certainly make them more than just protectors of student safety and expression.
Last week after the first verdict was delivered by the jury, an attorney for Gibson’s said, “I think part of what we did here today is answer the question as to, ‘What are we going to tolerate in our society?’” Owen Rarric said. “We’re hopeful that this is a sign that not only Oberlin College, but in the future, powerful institutions, will hesitate before trying to crush the little guy.”
(Image courtesy of Legal Insurrection Foundation)