Jury’s punitive damages bump Oberlin College’s defamation judgment bill to $33 million

Jury’s punitive damages bump Oberlin College’s defamation judgment bill to $33 million
Oberlin students accusing bakery of "racism" protest outside it in 2016. NBC 3 Cleveland video

It appears there’s one jury in Ohio that means business when it comes to deterring future attempts to destroy small companies with specious charges of “racism.”

LU’s Howard Portnoy reported on Tuesday that an Ohio jury had awarded Gibson’s Baked Goods and Candy $11 million in compensatory damages after the more-than-century-old bakery was targeted by Oberlin College over a shoplifting incident involving a student.  The student, who is black, was caught trying to steal wine from the bakery. When the police were called, the student claimed a store “employee ‘apprehended and choked’ him and subsequently ‘chased and tackled’ him prior to his arrest.”

The facts were closer to the opposite. Two others who came in with the student had actually joined him in attacking the employee.  When the student, Jonathan Aladin, subsequently recanted his story, all three were charged with misdemeanor assault.

Jonathan Aladin, mugshot (Image: Police photo)

Oberlin, however, took up for the students by supporting a full-blown campaign of defamation against the bakery, accusing it of “a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION,” and launching a boycott that nearly ended the 134-year-old business.  The police had found nothing to substantiate the claims trumpeted by Oberlin.

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Howard Portnoy reported that following the award for compensatory damages, the jury would go on to award punitive damages.  That award was reported on Thursday, in the amount of $22 million.

Legal Insurrection founder William Jacobson notes that $22 million would be the maximum amount permitted by state law (i.e., it would be twice the compensatory damages).  Legal Insurrection’s reporter on-scene, Daniel McGraw,  says the Gibson family expected a punitive judgment of perhaps half that amount, or less, and was “visibly shocked by the amount.”

Jacobson has followed the case closely, and offered this statement after the damages were disclosed:

Oberlin College tried to sacrifice a beloved 5th-generation bakery, its owners, and its employees, at the altar of political correctness in order to appease the campus ‘social justice warfare’ mob. The jury sent a clear message that the truth matters, and so do the reputations and lives of people targeted by false accusations, particularly when those false accusations are spread by powerful institutions. Throughout the trial the Oberlin College defense was tone-deaf and demeaning towards the bakery and its owners, calling the bakery nearly worthless. The jury sent a message that all lives matter, including the lives of ordinary working people who did nothing wrong other than stop people from stealing.

Daniel McGraw’s summary of Oberlin’s behavior during the trial seems to bear that assessment out.  The Gibsons offered to settle the case nearly two years ago, but reportedly didn’t even receive a reply to their offer to negotiate a settlement.  “Oberlin College and their insurance company seemed to have no interest in settling this case,” according to the Gibsons’ lead attorney, Lee Plakas.

The college will have to pay a substantially larger judgment than the Gibsons would probably have settled for — and it will also have to pay the Gibsons’ legal fees, which are expected to be in the millions. Even if the punitive damages are reduced by the judge, which is not unlikely, it’s still a big chunk of change from the college. With legal fees included Oberlin will probably be on the hook for an amount around $30 million.

The monetary figure may not be the most important thing, however. McGraw quotes Lee Plakas:

But in the end, this was a case that will be one that is pointed to as a “tipping point” of sorts. Plakas repeatedly told the jury that this was bigger than them, and that they could make a statement to the country “that this type of behavior is unacceptable to any community because a big collegiate institution like Oberlin College has a responsibility to their community and neighbors, and not just to themselves.”

Increasingly, Americans have simply had enough of being held over a barrel and shaken down out of sheer vindictiveness.

LU Staff

LU Staff

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