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Gibson's Bakery, Oberlin, Ohio

$44 million judgment against Oberlin College reduced to $25 million

A jury had awarded $44 million in actual and punitive damages to the owners of a bakery who sued Oberlin College over a shoplifting incident that led to student protests.

 A judge has reduced the amount of damages won by a bakery in Oberlin, Ohio, in a dispute with Oberlin College to just more than $25 million

The Elyria Chronicle-Telegram reports that Judge John Miraldi reduced the jury’s $44 million award—more than $11 million in compensatory damages and $33 million in punitive damages.

Those damages were awarded to Gibson's Bakery and its owners following a six-week trial. Jurors found that Oberlin College and its vice president and dean of students, Meredith Raimondo, damaged the century-old business relationship the college and bakery shared, as well as libeled the Gibson family.

The three plaintiffs in the case — David Gibson, Allyn W. Gibson and Gibson Bros. Inc. — will receive a total $25,049,000.

Per Miraldi’s order, total damages to be awarded to David Gibson will be $14 million.

That includes $11.6 million in punitive damages, $1.8 million in economic damages and $600,000 in noneconomic damages — $350,000 for libel and $250,000 for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Jurors originally awarded David Gibson a total of $5.8 million in compensatory damages for libel against Oberlin College and Raimondo, and against Oberlin College for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury also awarded David Gibson $17.5 million punitive damages June 13.

Miraldi reduced damages owed to Allyn W. “Grandpa” Gibson to $6.5 million, including $6 million in punitive damages and $500,000 for noneconomic loss — $250,000 each for libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The jury originally awarded Allyn W. Gibson $11.75 million: $3 million in non-economic damages, and an additional $8.75 million in punitive damages.

Gibson Bros. Inc., the partnership that operates Gibson’s Bakery, will receive $4.549 million, according to Miraldi’s order.

That includes $2,274,500 on the claims for economic loss ($1,137,250 on each claim for libel and intentional interference with business relations), and an additional $2,274,500 in punitive damages — again twice the amount the jury awarded in compensatory damages.

That’s down from the $6,973,500 awarded in punitive damages by the jury June 13 to the business partnership and bakery itself.

In a conference call with Oberlin College alumni Thursday night, Oberlin College President Carmen Twillie Ambar and Chris Canavan, president of the Oberlin College Board of Trustees, told alumni that Oberlin College will be able to manage if it is required to pay the judgment.

“We do expect and hope that worst-case scenario won’t come to fruition, given some of the legal options we have available,” Canavan said.

The lawsuit stemmed from a November 2016 incident. A black Oberlin College student tried to buy alcohol with a fake ID and shoplifted two bottles of wine from the store before he was chased out of the store by Allyn D. Gibson, who is white and is the son of owner David Gibson.

Outside, Allyn D. Gibson was assaulted by that student and two others before Oberlin police officers arrived. All three students pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, admitted criminal responsibility, publicly stated that the Gibsons are not racist and said Allyn D. Gibson was within his rights to chase the shoplifter out of the store.

The arrests were followed by two days of protests by hundreds of Oberlin College students, after which the college stopped ordering baked goods from the bakery for about a month. The college stopped doing business for good with the Gibsons when the family filed suit in late 2017.

Despite the students involved in the theft and assault taking responsibility in court, Ambar said she felt the initial incident was “mischaracterized” or not fully explained — “shoplifting or a fake ID, there’s an issue about what happened there,” she said. From the students’ perspective, it was a case of one student running into Tappan Square while being pursued by Allyn D. Gibson, Ambar said.

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