Appeals Court: Oberlin college must pay record $31 million to defamed Mom and Pop bakery

by WorldTribune Staff, April 4, 2022

The Ninth District Court of Appeals has ruled that Oberlin College must pay $31 million to a local Ohio bakery that accused the school of ruining its business with false accusations of racism.

The accusations against Gibson’s Bakery, a 135-year-old family business near the college, followed a 2016 incident in which the owner’s son confronted three black Oberlin students who were stealing wine from the store, according to reports.

The $31 million award is reportedly the largest defamation verdict in Ohio history. The appeals court’s 3-0 decision upheld a 2019 ruling in the case.

Oberlin College and key administrators — including the school’s vice president and dean of students — accused the bakery of racial profiling, claimed the bakery owner and other employees assaulted the students, and had a history of racism, the Washington Examiner reported.

The suspects who stole the wine were arrested and later admitted to shoplifting, but the incident sparked school-sanctioned protests and allegations of racism against Gibson’s Bakery.

In 2019, Lorain County Judge John Miraldi initially awarded the bakery more than $40 million in punitive and compensatory damages, but it was later reduced to $25 million. The bakery also was awarded more than $6 million for lawyers’ fees.

“At trial, it was absolutely clear to the jury (as reflected by the verdict) that there was not a shred of truth in the vicious statements about the Gibsons and that the college caused the devastating harm,” the Gibson family lawyers said after winning the case. “The truth prevailed.”

After Judge Miraldi’s 2019 ruling, Oberlin College refused to apologize to Gibson’s Bakery to avoid offending students with “different perspectives.”

At the trial, the jury reportedly heard evidence that college officials had distributed flyers containing the false accusations, and encouraged students to boycott and protest the bakery.

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