Last week Oberlin College was ordered to pay the family of a nearby bakery $11 million in compensatory damages after the school participated in and approved protests that called the family racist for trying to hold a shoplifter accountable.
Even though the shoplifter admitted during his sentencing that race was not a motivating factor in how the bakery responded to him using a fake ID in an attempt to purchase a bottle of wine and steal two more bottles, the college branded the bakery owners racist.
After a jury awarded the family owners of Gibson’s Bakery the money, Donica Thomas Varner, the school’s vice president and general counsel, sent a community wide email insulting jurors for failing to see the “clear evidence” they presented and criticizing them for allegedly holding the school responsible “for the independent actions of their students.”
William A. Jacobson, a Cornell Law School professor, suggested this email could be used against Oberlin when those same jurors decided on the amount of punitive damages to award the Gibson family. Luckily for Oberlin, the court barred jurors from seeing the full email, according to Legal Insurrection’s Daniel McGraw.
Following the $11 million fine, Oberlin attempted to have the case thrown out, claiming that because the compensatory damages were not separated between the members of the Gibson family and the baker, jurors would not be able to dole out punitive damages. They filed a motion for a mistrial because there was an improper “breakdown of damages per claimant by claim.” The judge denied their motion, according to Legal Insurrection.
Oberlin then tried to claim that it did not have enough money to pay the damages awarded to the Gibson’s, and that doing so would end up hurting Oberlin students. Hopefully the jurors see through this latest attempt to avoid consequences for their social justice actions. From Legal Insurrection:
Gibson’s lawyers spent considerable time going over Oberlin College’s IRS Form 990, showing over $1 billion in assets and numerous employees earning over $100,000, They also got the Vice President and General Counsel of the college to admit to some of the content of the blast email she sent out soon after the compensatory verdict, including that she felt the jury disregarded the “clear evidence,” though they were not permitted to show the jury the letter itself under a prior court ruling.
The defense then argued that notwithstanding the Form 990, the college had cash flow and liquidity issues that would make a large punitive award difficult for the college. The defense compared the relatively poor financial condition of Oberlin College to other colleges and universities in Ohio. The defense argued that students would be harmed by a large verdict because the college might have to cut back on grants given to students.
Legal Insurrection’s McGraw described the hearing as something similar to a divorce, with one side claiming to have fewer assets than it actually held. Oberlin even brought out its president to claim the school was failing.
“We’ve created deficits … and over the next 10 years, if this continues, that is unsustainable and we will not exist,” Oberlin president Carmen Twillie Ambar told jurors.