Jury hits Oberlin College with a total $44.2 million in damages
ELYRIA, Ohio — The family at the center of a defamation lawsuit against Oberlin College hugged in celebration on Thursday when a jury granted them $33 million in punitive damages on top of the $11 million compensatory award they’re already owed by the liberal arts school.
The newly decided punitive damages — money awarded to plaintiffs in a civil lawsuit to punish defendants and deter future bad conduct — were broken down by the jury into $17.5 million for David Gibson, $8.75 million for family patriarch Allyn Gibson, and $6.97 million for their company, Gibson Bros, Inc.
The family sued Oberlin following an incident on Nov. 9, 2016. in which a black college student attempted to shoplift wine from Gibson’s Bakery. A grandson of the family also named Allyn Gibson, who is white, followed the student out, leading to a physical altercation in front of the store. The student and two friends -—who were also black — were then arrested.
Protests erupted on campus in the days following, with students claiming that the robbery charge and subsequent conflict were racially motivated, as well as claiming a history of racial profiling in the store.
The arrested students later backtracked on those claims and pleaded guilty to misdemeanors in court, and the Gibsons brought a lawsuit against both Oberlin College and Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo. The suit alleged libel and accused the school of supporting the students’ harmful actions and cutting economic ties with the bakery.
Last week a Lorain County Common Pleas Court jury ruled in favor of the Gibson family, awarding them $11 million for past and future economic and noneconomic harm and loss. Then Oberlin College’s financial hit got even worse on Thursday when the institution was ordered to pay the punitive damages — plus undetermined attorney fees.
“For a family like ours, when you are in small business, your business, your family, your reputation is all one. … That’s what takes us to the next day, and we’re proud of it,” David Gibson told The Blade after the verdict.