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Yesterday a jury awarded $33 million in punitive damages to the owners of Gibson’s bakery, a small business adjacent to Oberlin College. That amount was on top of the $11 million in compensatory damages it awarded last week. In fact, it appears the $44 million verdict exceeds what the law allows and will have to be capped at $33 million (plus attorneys fees). Today, Oberlin College released a statement to alumni saying there is still a long way to go in this legal battle:
We will take the time we need to thoughtfully consider the course that is in Oberlin’s best interests. I will update the community as we make these decisions. I am confident that when we resolve this matter, it will look substantially different than it looks today.
I guess it’s fair to say that a $33 million judgment won’t “materially harm” a college that reportedly has $1 billion in assets. All the more reason to let the decision stand and not reduce the amount of the verdict.
We are disappointed in the jury’s decisions and the fragmentary and sometimes distorted public discussion of this case. But we respect the integrity of the jury, and we value our relationship with the town and region that are our home. We will learn from this lawsuit as we build a stronger relationship with our neighbors.
They could start building a stronger relationship with the neighbors by not allowing their staff members to participate in protests where the neighbors are being called racists. As I pointed out last week, all of this was over the owners of the store trying to stop a shoplifter from stealing wine. But because two of the three people involved were black and the owners are white, student protesters began protesting. Oberlin College dean of students Meredith Raimondo participated in those protests and handed out flyers accusing the bakery of being a “racist establishment.” The protesters also demanded the school cut off all business with the bakery (which the school did). Eventually, all three students involved pleaded guilty to misdemeanors and made statements in court that the incident was not racially motivated.
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