The Jury in the Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College case has reached a verdict.

According to our reporter in the Courtroom, the jury awarded $11 million. Here are the details: Allyn W. Gibson was awarded $3 million, David Gibson $5.8 million, Gibson Bros. $2,274,500. Next Tuesday there will be a separate punitive damages hearing which could be a double award (meaning tripling the $11 million to $33 million).

[Judge John Miraldi reading Jury Verdict][Photo Credit Legal Insurrection Foundation]

(clarification) Meredith Raimondo was held liable on the libel and interference with business relations, but not intentional infliction of emotional distress. By stipulation, the college is responsible for any amounts awarded against her, so she will not pay anything out of pocket.

We followed this case from the start of the protests, through the lawsuit process, and now trial. Here’s my statement:

The verdict sends a strong message that colleges and universities cannot simply wind up and set loose student social justice warriors and then wash their hands of the consequences. In this case, a wholly innocent 5th-generation bakery was falsely accused of being racist and having a history racial profiling after stopping three black Oberlin College students from shoplifting. The students eventually pleaded guilty, but not before large protests and boycotts intended to destroy the bakery and defame the owners. The jury appears to have accepted that Oberlin College facilitated the wrongful conduct against the bakery.

We will have interviews and video later. We will update this post as more information becomes available.

[Four generations of Gibsons after Jury Verdict][Photo Credit Legal Insurrection Foundation]

UPDATES

Video of David Gibson reacting:

More complete statements by attorneys Lee Plakas, Owen Rarric, and plaintiff David Gibson:

As previously posted, I was amazed at the tone-deaf and demeaning approach of Oberlin College to this family business. Oberlin College claimed the Bakery was worth only $35k, less than one semester at Oberlin College:

I’m still shaking my head at the tone-deafness of the defense in belittling this family business which has sustained five generations of Gibsons, and at the time of the protests sustained three generations: 90-year-old Allyn W. Gibson, his son David Gibson, and his grandson Allyn D. Gibson. There also were almost a dozen employees. After the protests, the Gibsons stopped taking salaries and most of the employees have been laid off. This is real life to these people. To say that the business was worth only $35,000 erases the lives of these people. Maybe it’s just the plaintiff’s lawyer in me coming out, but I’d cross examine this defense expert and college president, and show in closing argument, the tuition, room and board charges at Oberlin College. This business, which has been an important feature of the community since 1885, is worth less than one semester at Oberlin College?

This case is bigger than just this case, and reflects reflects Higher Ed disconnect from the lives of most Americans:

First, from the start of this case I have questioned the aggressive and demeaning attacks on the Gibsons as a defense strategy. There is no evidence that the Gibsons did anything wrong, unless you consider stopping people from stealing something wrong. That lawful act of protecting one’s property nonetheless has devastated a 5-generation business because of Oberlin College racial politics. Gibson’s Bakery survived two World Wars, the Depression, the turmoil of the 1960s, and the so-called Great Recession, but it may not survive Oberlin College’s social justice warriors and their faculty and administrative enablers. If the jury understands this, the other pieces of the case fall into line, factually and legally.

Second, I never cease to be amazed at the arrogance of the college community as reflected in the defense that Gibson’s Bakery was close to worthless. It’s the arrogance of the credentialed. A business that is in its 5th generation, and that currently supports three of those generations, is something of value. A business that employed almost a dozen local employees prior to this incident is something to value. Ultimately the jury will have to put a monetary value on the dramatic drop in business, and the loss of reputation of the individuals, but to demean the business the way was done is maddening.

Scott Wargo, spokesman for Oberlin College, provided the following comment in response to my inquiry: “The College does not have a comment.”

Oberlin just sent this blast email:

Dear Members of the Oberlin Community:

I am writing to update you on the lawsuit that Gibson Bros., Inc. filed against Oberlin College and Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo in the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas in November 2017.

Following a trial that spanned almost a full month, the jury found for the plaintiffs earlier today.

We are disappointed with the verdict and regret that the jury did not agree with the clear evidence our team presented.

Neither Oberlin College nor Dean Meredith Raimondo defamed a local business or its owners, and they never endorsed statements made by others. 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.

As we have stated, colleges cannot be held liable for the independent actions of their students. Institutions of higher education are obligated to protect freedom of speech on their campuses and respect their students’ decision to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights. Oberlin College acted in accordance with these obligations.

While we are disappointed with the outcome, Oberlin College wishes to thank the members of the jury for their attention and dedication during this lengthy trial. They contributed a great deal of time and effort to this case, and we appreciate their commitment.

Our team will review the jury’s verdict and determine how to move forward.

Donica Thomas Varner
Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary

I wonder if this statement can be used against the college in the punitive damage phase. They have learned nothing, and still are blaming the Gibsons for this.

Dan McGraw, who was in the courtroom, reports:

When the verdict was read by the judge, four  generations of the Gibson family — from 11-year-old Cashlyn to 90-year old Allyn W. “Grandpa” Gibson — hugged each other behind their plaintiff’s courtroom table. They are a hardy bunch, and did not cry or show too much emotion — no wailing or crying by this family —  but as one who has watched them for over a month now, you could see a burden had been lifted from their shoulders.

It was the culmination of their life being blown up and their state of living being pushed upside down ever since three students from Oberlin College shoplifted at their store on Nov. 9, 2016.

Their reward for calling the police on the shoplifters was being tagged as racist by the Oberlin College students who protested their actions. And for Oberlin College to support those actions of defamation. Two-and-a-half years later they feel somewhat vindicated, as an Ohio jury saw what Oberlin College did to them was wrong and slapping them with an $11 million judgement for doing so.

“I am at a loss for words,” 64-year-old David Gibson told Legal Insurrection in an exclusive interview. “Two-and-a-half years of putting up with this has been very difficult and overwhelming. I just want to let people know across the country that this can happen to anyone else, but we stayed and worked together as a family and fought against this. In many ways, what we wanted from Oberlin College the jury gave to us.  They said we were not racists and that the college should have said so when all this started.”

“I thank the jury for seeing what we have seen from the beginning of this,” he said

Owen Rarric, one of the lead attorneys for the Gibson’s, also pointed out that this case has national implications in this time of cultural debate.

“The jury saw that Oberlin College went out of their way to harm a good family and longtime business in their community for no real reason, and the jury said we aren’t going to tolerate that in our community any more,” Rarric said. “The college kept saying we don’t control our students. But the jury told them that we can tolerate some of this from time to time, but not what you did this time.”

Lee Plakas, who handled much of the month-long trial and who gave the closing argument, said this case “is a national tipping point.”

“What the jury saw is that teaching students and having them learn how to be upstanding members of the community is what colleges are supposed to do, not appease some students who they are afraid of,” Plakas said. “People around the country should learn from this, that you can use the legal system to right the wrongs, even if the one doing the wrong is some huge institution who thinks they can do anything they want.”

Roger Copeland, a retired Oberlin College professor of theater and dance, was in the courtroom and seemed ecstatic after the jury came back with their verdict. Prof. Copeland is somewhat famous in the courtroom for getting this response on a Raimondo text to co-workers after a letter-to-the editor he wrote was critical of the school for their handling of the Gibson’ affair. “Fuck him,” Raimondo responded in a text message about Copeland. “I’d say unleash the students if I wasn’t convinced this needs to be put behind us.”

“I’m exhilarated by this verdict,” Copeland said, whose wife Michele worked at the school in food service and testified she was under orders by the school to cut the business off from the cafeteria bagels and pastries they provided because of the student unrest.

“What is most amazing about this trial is that the public was able to see what the process really was in how the school goes about its business,” Copeland said. “It’s almost like the mask has been ripped off the face and we can now see what the face really looks like.”

BACKGROUND

For background on the case, see here.

The plaintiffs are Gibson Bros. Inc. (the Bakery), 90-year-0ld Allyn W. Gibson, and his son, David B. Gibson. The defendants are Oberlin College and its Dean of Students, Meredith Raimondo.

Here are the counts that went to the jury:

Count 1: Libel
Count 3: Tortious Interference with Business Relationships
Count 4: Tortious Interference with Contracts
Count 6: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

These are the jury interrogatories the jury had to follow to reach a verdict:

Gibson Bros Inc. Jury Interrogatories

Allyn W. Gibson Jury Interrogatories 

David R. Gibson Jury Interrogatories

The short version of this story is that the day after the 2016 election victory by Donald Trump, a black male Oberlin College student was stopped for shoplifting wine at Gibson’s Bakery and Market in downtown Oberlin, OH. Gibson’s had been in existence since 1885, was frequented by students, and also provided baked goods to the college dining halls. A scuffle ensued that was joined by two black female Oberlin College students accompanying the male shoplifter and apparently acting in concert with him. All three eventually would plead guilty to shoplifting and aggravated trespassing, and would avow that Gibson’s was not engaged in racial profiling.

But before those guilty pleas, students at the college immediately declared that Gibson’s was guilty of racial profiling, and large protests were organized outside the bakery. Flyers were passed out claiming Gibson’s was “racist” and had “a long account of racial profiling and discrimination.” The Oberlin College Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo allegedly participated in handing out the flyers in front of the bakery. The Oberlin College Student Senate also passed a resolution claiming Gibson’s “has a long history of racial profiling and discriminatory treatment of students and residents alike.” The college administration allegedly helped spread this student senate resolution.

Students started a boycott of the bakery, initially joined in by the college. The college eventually resumed business with the bakery, but then terminated that business after the lawsuit was filed.

Gibson’s and its owners sued the college and Raimondo for libel, tortious interference with business relationships and contracts, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and trespass. Gibson’s alleged long-term damage to its business and reputation for the allegedly defamatory accusations and other torts. The plaintiffs in closing argument asked the jury to award $12.8 million in compensatory damages.

Here are our some of our posts when the protests against Gibson’s started, along with the early litigation history:

Here are our trial posts:

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NOTE: Our trial coverage is a project of the Legal Insurrection Foundation. Your support helps make this type of coverage possible.

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