Oberlin College in Ohio suffered another legal blow in its years-long battle to overturn a jury decision that found the college defamed a local bakery, with an Ohio appeals court upholding a previous $25 million judgment awarded to a local business that claims the college committed libel against it.
In 2016, Allyn Gibson, the son of Gibson’s Bakery and Food Mart owners David Gibson and Allyn Gibson, chased down and tackled a Black student who he suspected stealing a bottle of wine. Two Black students at Oberlin College, who were friends of the individual who stole the bottle of wine, became involved in the physical incident. All three students were arrested, according to court documents, and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges.
The bakery's owners sued Oberlin College in 2017, claiming that the school had libeled them and said that their business was harmed by their actions.
In a Thursday 9th District Court of Appeals ruling, which was unanimous, the three judge panel rejected Oberlin college's claims and upheld a previous ruling that the college is responsible for paying the Gibson's legal fees, amounting to $6.3 million. The previous ruling also awarded $25 million to the bakery in damages.
Lorain County Judge John Mirald initially awarded over $40 million to the bakery, but was later brought down to $25 million. The appeals ruling denied Oberlin College's request for a new trial, while also rejecting a claim by the bakery owners that the amount awarded does not go far enough in punishing the school.
Oberlin College officials said that they are reviewing their options, but are disappointed with the decision.
Following the shoplifting incident, Oberlin College students protested outside the bakery. During the protest, Oberlin College vice president and dean of students, Meredith Raimondo, handed out flyers stating that the bakery is a "RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION," according to court documents.
Court documents also show that college resources were used to print the flyers and buy food and other supplies for the protesters. The college also stopped buying food from the bakery.
In addition, the Oberlin College Student Senate passed a resolution accusing the bakery owners of being racist, which was emailed to all students.
Oberlin College has dedicated an entire webpage to the lawsuit, calling it a "threat to free speech."
The bakery owners, David Gibson and Allyn Gibson, have since died.
Allyn Gibson died in February, while David Gibson died in November 2019.
The Associated Press contributed to this report