Ohio Supreme Court Declines Appeal For Defamation Case Against Oberlin College

The Ohio Supreme Court has declined to take up Oberlin College’s appeal of the $36 million judgment against the school for defaming Gibson’s Bakery — a family-owned local business — by accusing the owners of racism.

The judgment was the result of a lawsuit against Oberlin College and then-dean of students Meredith Raimondo, who was also the school’s vice president. The lawsuit was filed in 2017 by Allyn Gibson and his son, David Gibson — the owners of Gibson’s Bakery — who accused Raimondo of being involved in the distribution of a flyer accusing the bakery of racism.

In June of 2019, after a five-week trial, a Lorain County jury awarded the Gibsons $44 million total — with $11 million in compensatory damages and $33 million in punitive damages — which was later reduced to $25 million by a judge.

Due to Oberlin dragging its feet and refusing to pay the damages for several years, the college has racked up over $4M in interest — which is $4,300 per day — which brings their total dues up to approximately $36 million.

The lawsuit stems from an incident in 2016 in which three black students were arrested at Gibson’s Bakery, and the resulting protests and smears against the business.

A police report about the incident describes Allyn Gibson’s allegations against the teens. According to the report, a black male had attempted to steal from the store, hiding wine beneath his shirt, and an altercation ensued after he confronted the thief. Gibson also told the police that two black females engaged in violence against him during the incident.

Trying to water down the story in favor of the thieves, the Associated Press reported that Gibson had tackled a black male student who he suspected of theft, noting that two black female students had then attempted to intervene.

The three individuals eventually pled guilty to attempted theft and aggravated trespassing, declaring in statements — which were mandated by the plea agreement — that their behavior was wrong and the bakery was not racist.

The arrests of the three students triggered protests outside of the bakery, where activists distributed flyers accusing the owners of racist business practices. The school’s Student Senate even passed a resolution condemning the Gibsons, which was emailed to all students and was posted in a display case at the student center. The resolution remained in the display case for a year.

Oberlin College officials also took action against the store, ordering its campus food provider to stop purchasing bakery items from Gibson’s Bakery.

The Ohio Supreme Court’s decision to reject the appeal means that the lengthy appeal battle is finally over, and the college will now have to pay out the $36 million. Unfortunately, David and Allyn Gibson are not alive to see the end of this fight, as David passed away in November 2019 at the age of 65, while Allyn passed in February of this year at the age of 93. Their family, who are still running the struggling business, will receive the award.