An Ohio jury says Oberlin College and one of its administrators should be required to pay $33.2 million in punitive damages in connection with a shoplifting incident at a local bakery that led to student protests and racial allegations.
The punitive damages are in addition to the more than $11 million in actual damages that the jury had awarded to the owners of Gibson's Bakery in Oberlin.
Ohio law limits punitive damages to twice the compensatory amount, and legal experts said they expect that a judge will reduce the award.
The bakery sued Oberlin College and Meredith Raimondo, the college’s dean of students, after protests by students and allegations of racial profiling that followed a 2016 shoplifting incident in which an Oberlin student tried to use false identification to buy alcohol.
The student left the store, and a bakery employee followed the student outside, where the two began to fight.
Two other students got involved, and police have said when they arrived the three students were hitting the bakery employee while he was on the ground.
In the two days immediately after the shoplifting incident, Oberlin College students protested in front of the bakery and passed out flyers urging people to boycott the bakery, alleging the bakery had a history of racial profiling.
Oberlin College also stopped ordering from the bakery after the protests, but resumed in January 2017. The college once again stopped ordering from Gibson’s after the lawsuit was filed in November 2017.
The bakery employee who pursued the shoplifter is white and the students are black. The three students pleaded guilty in August 2017 to misdemeanor charges and read statements into the record acknowledging that bakery was within its rights to detain the shoplifter and that his actions were not racially motivated.