Oberlin College is not being spared in the courtroom of further potential embarrassment, after losing a defamation lawsuit filed by the local Gibson’s Bakery in Oberlin, Ohio. The court fined Oberlin College to the tune of $22 million plus up to $6.5 million in damages. But the college asked the judge for a stay of execution and the judge complied.
Yet, adding insult to injury, the judge issued a $36 million bond, which is $14 million more than what the college was ordered to pay in the defamation lawsuit. The judge ordered the bond to be issued to make sure that the college would pay the amount: Gibson’s Bakery was concerned that the college would not pay the full amount.
According to Legal Insurrection, Oberlin College said it only had $59.1 million in unrestricted endowment funds that it could tap to comply with the judge’s order. However, the college acknowledged that $10 million of that amount was earmarked for other purposes and could not be used to pay Gibson’s Bakery. This, coupled with the fact that Oberlin College (like many colleges) saw an enrollment decline, means the college could have a tough time paying its bills, paying its staff and faculty, and paying the bakery.
It also underscores how Oberlin College and its students have resisted the judge’s decision. The student-run newspaper, the Oberlin Review, ran an editorial rife with inaccuracies which claimed the verdict was wrong and the college should have been exonerated.
As background, Gibson’s Bakery sued Oberlin College for defamation and for supporting a student boycott of the bakery. The lawsuit took place after a series of events that involved Oberlin College students, who stole items from the bakery, followed by retaliation from college administrators and students. At one point, Oberlin College Vice President and Dean of Students, Meredith Raimondo, allegedly passed out anti-Gibson’s Bakery fliers to protesters, but later claimed she was simply passing along information to those in the crowd and was only at the protest “to help ensure that a safe environment was maintained.
In November 2016, a black male student was caught red-handed trying to steal two bottles of wine, but the student’s associates then attacked a bakery employee. Although the shoplifting suspect and his two associates pled guilty to shoplifting and criminal trespass, in addition to admitting that Gibson Bakery was not racist, protests and anti-bakery rhetoric continued to escalate. The college’s defensive strategy was to play the victim and blame the bakery for physical assault against the shoplifters, but the jury did not buy that those claims. The jury handed down $22 million in damages to be paid to the bakery by Oberlin College.