Oberlin College will be forced to pay more than $11 million in damages to a nearby bakery after the college supported — and even encouraged — protests after allegations of racial profiling against the business that turned out to be misguided.
A group of three black students claimed they were the victims of racial profiling after being caught shoplifting at nearby Gibson’s Bakery in 2016. As the New York Post reported, the arrests were met with large protests from students and faculty at the institution, which even cut off its business with the family-owned bakery for a short time.
As the Chronicle-Telegram reported, the Dean of Students at Oberlin, Meredith Raimondo, created flyers claiming that the bakery had a history of racial profiling and urged students to boycott.
But the students ended up pleading guilty to attempted theft the next year and admitted in court that there was no racial profiling.
The owners of the bakery filed suit against Oberlin College, and this week a jury found that both the school and Raimondo were guilty of libel.
Donica Thomas Varner, the college’s general counsel, continued to maintain that the school did not defame the bakery or its owners.
“Neither Oberlin College nor Dean Meredith Raimondo defamed a local business or its owners, and they never endorsed statements made by others,” Varner reportedly said.
“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.”
A lawyer for the Gibson family said that they had only wanted the truth to come out and were seeking a letter from Oberlin College setting the record straight about allegations of racial profiling. In the end, the bakery ended up receiving $11 million.
“But the jury sent the letter that was louder and more visible and more public,” said Lee Plakas, lead attorney for the family.
“I think the Gibson family is grateful for that and grateful for the jury to have the courage to be able to send a letter that no one else would send for the last almost three years.”
The case has captured national attention, coming at a time of heightened racial tensions. The story has gained particular traction among right-wing news sources, coming just months after Donald Trump signed an executive order threatening to withhold federal funding from universities that did not protect the First Amendment rights of students. Conservatives contend that some colleges and universities have tried to silence conservative voices on campus and that student demonstrations against controversial right-wing speakers are squashing free speech.