The Ohio Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that Oberlin College doesn’t have to pay the $36 million it was ordered to pay Gibson’s Bakery for defamation, at least while the college continues to appeal the earlier verdict.
The ruling could mean the end of Gibson’s Bakery, a family-owned bakery that has operated in Oberlin, Ohio, since 1885. Oberlin was found to have defamed the bakery when the school supported and encouraged students falsely claiming the bakery was racist because the owner stopped some non-white students from shoplifting.
After a trial, a jury awarded Gibson’s $44 million in damages, but state limitations reduced the final amount to $25 million plus $6 million in attorney’s fees, The College Fix reported. With interest, the total comes to $36 million.
But an unsigned decision from the Ohio Supreme Court will keep Oberlin from paying until the court considers the college’s latest appeal, and it is unclear when the court will take up the case, Cleveland.com reported. In April, an appeals court upheld the verdict against Oberlin, The Daily Wire reported, but Oberlin is appealing the decision to the state’s highest court, in what appears to many to be part of an ongoing effort to stall the case in order to avoid paying.
Legal Insurrection’s William A. Jacobson previously reported that the two family members who served as the lead plaintiffs – David Gibson and his father Allyn – passed away before the decision was upheld, though they did live to see the original verdict. David had previously revealed he had been diagnosed with cancer and said that Oberlin was purposefully dragging out the case.
As The Daily Wire previously reported, several non-white Oberlin students attempted to steal alcohol from Gibson’s, a local bakery with a long history of serving the Oberlin community. A Gibson family member who was working at the bakery that day chased the students out of the store, where they attacked him. He called the police and the students were arrested, pleading guilty and admitting race had nothing to do with the incident.
But other students and faculty accused the bakery of racism and staged protests outside, with Oberlin officials fully endorsing and supporting the protesters’ (false) narrative. Further, while Oberlin claimed in court the protests were peaceful, some demonstrators actually entered the bakery and harassed customers, taking pictures of them and making disparaging comments to them. They also blocked customers from moving down the aisles and slashed the tires of a store employee.
Behind the scenes, Oberlin administrators trashed the bakery and anyone who defended them, calling defenders “idiots” and saying “F***” them.
The Gibson’s home was broken into months after the protests (though it is unclear whether it was related), with the elderly patriarch breaking bones in his neck. Business dropped and employees were laid-off. The family was threatened.
Jurors sided with the bakery and awarded them $44 million in total damages, an amount that was later reduced to $25 million due to state limits. In April of this year, the Oberlin College lawyer who failed to defend the school was transferred to Cornell University, The Daily Wire reported.
Cornell appointed general counsel Donica Thomas Varner in 2021, even though she was best known for sending an inflammatory email criticizing the jury’s decision to award Gibson’s Bakery $11.2 million in compensatory damages. The email was sent after this decision but before a separate trial awarded the bakery an additional $33 million.
“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,” Varner wrote. “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.”
The email so inflamed the court it became an issue, with Varner being asked questions about her statements.
Evidence and testimony at trial backed up Gibson’s plight, yet Varner still sent that email, beyond what losing attorneys typically say after losing. Varner’s email may well have cost the college another $30 million, yet she ended up with a new job at Cornell.