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Family bakery libeled by college amid student protests calling shop 'racist' awarded maximum punitive damages

Total award could reach $33 million

Image source: YouTube screenshot

A jury on Thursday awarded maximum punitive damages to an Ohio bakery libeled by Oberlin College amid student protests that accused the family-owned shop of engaging in racial profiling, Legal Insurrection reported.

Gibson's Bakery was awarded $11 million in compensatory damages last week. But the results of this week's punitive trial was set to significantly increase the total award.

Legal Insurrection said the punitive damages award was $33 million, which likely will be reduced to $22 million due to state law that caps such awards at twice the compensatory amount — bringing the total overall award back to $33 million. The outlet said the jury also awarded attorney's fees.

What's the background?

Gibson's — a fixture in downtown Oberlin since 1885 — had been popular with students and was even featured on the college's dining hall menu, Legal Insurrection reported in a previous article.

But that all changed the day after President Donald Trump's 2016 election, the outlet said, when a black male Oberlin student was accused of shoplifting wine. Allyn Gibson — one of the shop's owners, who is white — followed the student out of the store and a scuffle ensued, the Chronicle-Telegram said.

Two black female students got involved, Legal Insurrection noted. Police said when they arrived the three students were hitting Gibson while he was on the ground, the Chronicle-Telegram added.

The students pleaded guilty in August 2017 to misdemeanor charges — shoplifting and aggravated trespassing, Legal Insurrection said — and read statements into the record saying Gibson was within his right to detain the shoplifter and that his actions weren't racist, the Chronicle-Telegram reported.

But just says after the incident, Oberlin students protested in front of the bakery, the paper said. Black Lives Matter participated in the protests as well, PowerLine blog said.

Here's a protest clip. ( Content warning: Language):

BAKERY BOYCOTTED BY BLACK COLLEGE KIDS FIRES BACK, SUES SCHOOL FOR SLANDER youtu.be

Flyers were passed out claiming Gibson's was "racist" and had "a long account of racial profiling and discrimination," Legal Insurrection said, adding that Oberlin Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo allegedly helped to hand out the flyers in front of the bakery.

The Oberlin College Student Senate passed a resolution claiming Gibson's "has a long history of racial profiling and discriminatory treatment of students and residents alike," Legal Insurrection reported, adding that school administrators allegedly helped spread the resolution.

Oberlin College stopped ordering from the bakery after the protests but resumed in January 2017, the Chronicle-Telegram said, adding that the school again stopped ordering from Gibson's after the bakery filed its November 2017 lawsuit. It accused Oberlin and Raimondo of libel, tortious interference with business relationships and contracts, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and trespass, Legal Insurrection said.

The jury on Friday found that Oberlin inflicted emotional distress, interfered with business relationships, and libeled Gibson's, the Chronicle-Telegram said, adding that Raimondo libeled the Gibson family and business.

David Gibson testified in May that the protests "devastated" the bakery's revenue and forced staffing cuts, the Chronicle-Telegram said. David Gibson and Allyn Gibson told the court they haven't collected pay since the protests, and neither have David Gibson's wife, son, and grandson, the paper added.

More from Legal Insurrection:

Roger Copeland, a retired Oberlin College professor of theater and dance, was in the courtroom and seemed ecstatic after the jury came back with their verdict. Prof. Copeland is somewhat famous in the courtroom for getting this response on a Raimondo text to co-workers after a letter-to-the editor he wrote was critical of the school for their handling of the Gibson' affair. "F*** him," Raimondo responded in a text message about Copeland. "I'd say unleash the students if I wasn't convinced this needs to be put behind us."

"I'm exhilarated by this verdict," Copeland told the outlet, which added that his wife Michele worked for Oberlin food service and testified that the school ordered her to cut Gibson's bagels and pastries for the dining halls due to student unrest.

Oberlin's director of media relations on Thursday told TheBlaze the college has no comment on the report of the punitive award.

Bakery sues Oberlin College youtu.be

This story has been updated.

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