Ohio Supreme Court refuses to hear Oberlin’s appeal, college must pay bakery more than $30 million

by WorldTribune Staff, August 31, 2022

The Supreme Court of Ohio on Tuesday refused to hear the appeal of a lower court’s ruling that Oberlin College must pay Gibson’s Bakery more than $30 million over 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.

Ohio’s top court refused to hear Oberlin’s appeal of the favorable ruling for the bakery made earlier this year by the Ninth District Court of Appeals.

The award, which reports say is around $36 million, is reportedly the largest defamation verdict in Ohio history. The appeals court’s 3-0 decision upheld a 2019 ruling in the case.

In 2019, Lorain County Judge John Miraldi initially awarded the bakery more than $40 million in punitive and compensatory damages, but the amount was later reduced.

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

At the 2019 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.

Gibson’s Bakery and its legal team said in a statement to Legal Insurrection: “Oberlin tried to frame this case with claims and issues that weren’t on trial. This has never been a case about a student’s First Amendment rights. Individuals’ reputations should never be sacrificed at a false altar of free speech. The Gibsons and the entire State of Ohio should appreciate that the jury, a unanimous Ninth District Court of Appeals, and a majority of the Justices on the Ohio Supreme Court recognized that the deplorable conduct of Oberlin College could not be camouflaged by misleading claims of free speech.

“The jury recognized Oberlin College’s bullying tactics. The students admitted their misconduct, but Oberlin College could never admit that they were wrong. They presumed that they could bring the Gibsons to their knees. The power of truth has enabled the Gibson family to survive Oberlin’s onslaught.”

Oberlin said in a statement to local newspaper The Chronicle: “Oberlin is disappointed that the Ohio Supreme Court has chosen not to hear our appeal of the Gibson’s Bakery judgment against the college. The issues raised by this case have been challenging, not only for the parties involved, but for the entire Oberlin community. We remain committed to strengthening the partnership between the College, the City of Oberlin and its residents, and the downtown business community. We will continue in that important work while remaining focused on our core educational mission.”

On the possibility that Oberlin College could take the case to federal court, Legal Insurrection’s William A. Jacobson noted: “That is a long, long, long shot. The appeal would be from the Ohio Supreme Court to the U.S. Supreme Court. The likelihood the U.S. Supreme Court would agree to hear a case the Ohio Supreme Court refused to hear is not zero, but it’s approaching zero. I would not be shocked if they tried, but they would have to obtain another stay of enforcement of the judgment from the U.S. Supreme Court, another major hurdle that has little likelihood of success.”

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