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Gibson's Bakery v. Oberlin: College wants mistrial as punitive phase begins

  • Gibson-s-v-Oberlin-College-1

    Judge John Miraldi listens addresses the court on Tuesday afternoon, June 11.

    KRISTIN BAUER/ CHRONICLE

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ELYRIA — A Lorain County judge will consider Oberlin College’s request for a new trial at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Attorney Ronald Holman made the request today at the beginning of the punitive phase of the lawsuit brought by Gibson’s Bakery against Oberlin College. 

Judge John Miraldi said he would consider Oberlin’s request and other motions presented at today’s hearing when court resumes. 

A jury on Friday awarded more than $11 million in compensatory damages in the bakery’s civil lawsuit, finding the college inflicted emotional distress, interfered with business relationships and libeled the family-owned bakery in downtown Oberlin. The jury also found that Meredith Raimondo, the college’s vice president and dean of students, libeled the family and business.

Punitive damages will be considered by the same jury once Miraldi rules on the motions. The additional damages are considered punishment and are awarded after actual compensatory damages awarded for loss. In Ohio, the amount of punitive damages is limited to twice the amount of the compensatory award. That means a jury could decide to award a little more than $22 million, which could bring total damages to approximately $33 million.

Background

Gibson’s Bakery sued the college and Raimondo in 2017 after a 2016 shoplifting incident at the bakery devolved into student protests alleging the Gibsons were racist.

A student tried to buy alcohol with a fake ID and shoplift from Allyn D. Gibson, David Gibson’s son. Allyn D. Gibson followed the student out of the store, and the two got into a physical altercation.

Two other students got involved, and police have said when they arrived the three students were hitting Allyn D. Gibson while he was on the ground.

Allyn D. Gibson 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 Allyn D. Gibson was within his right to detain the shoplifter and that his actions were not racially motivated.

But 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 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 amount of money the Gibson family received was about $2 million short of the $13 million Plakas asked the jury to award.

This is a developing story. Photos and additional reporting will be posted here as information becomes available. 
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