Despite the civil verdict for $36 million, Oberlin College hasn’t paid Gibson’s Bakery

September 1, 2022 • 9:15 am

The other day I reported on the Ohio Supreme Court’s rejection of Oberlin College’s appeal; the College had been ordered in a civil suit to pay $31 million to Gibson’s Bakery (plus, as this post notes, perhaps another $5 million more) for “libel, slander, interference with business relationships, and interference with contracts.” You can see the whole sordid story, which reflects terribly on Oberlin College, on the Wikipedia page Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College.

I assumed that, since the Ohio Supreme Court was Oberlin’s last recourse in this civil suit, the College would pay up. Two members of the Gibson family have died since the 2006 incident that precipitated the lawsuit, and as I recall, Oberlin had put up a bond to cover the amount.

But according to a piece by  Lorna Gibson, one of the family that owns and runs the store, Oberlin won’t pay up—or hasn’t paid up (it’s not quite clear). Her account, “Will I ever see the $36 million Oberlin College Owes Me?“, is posted on Bari Weiss’s Substack site. It also gives a few details I didn’t know.  The story is familiar, so I’ll just give the information that was new to me. (Beyond that, Ms. Gibson recounts the horrible way the bakery was treated by Oberlin, which withdrew all standing orders as a form of retribution.)

Before November 9, our relationship to the school had been wonderful. We delivered pizza dough, bagels, and cookies to the dining halls every day. We did pie and ice cream socials for parents’ weekend, and pastry trays for parties. I worked as a nurse at a local hospital until 2002, but if there were a large order, I’d often help David deliver the trays of baked goods to campus.

A week after the incident, the school canceled all of our standing orders. That was just the beginning of my family’s nightmare.

The school put out a statement that implied that this wasn’t an isolated incident. The school’s student senate passed a resolution urging the school to cut ties with us, which was posted in a display case at the student center. Our business from the students themselves and administrators—we have a small grocery store and sell beer and wine in addition to our pastries and candies—dried up completely. And the students kept showing up to protest.

David met with the President of the school, along with other administrators, to try to get Oberlin to retract its baseless claims that we were racist, and to quell the small group of students who, in their passion, had gotten us so wrong. But Oberlin would not even consider issuing a statement, and allowed the public to believe that we were in fact “racist.”

Instead, the school proposed a deal where, in the future, if a student were caught shoplifting, we’d call the dean instead of the police. My husband and his dad believe firmly that everyone should be treated equally, so they refused. Eventually, in 2017, we felt that we had no choice other than filing a lawsuit against Oberlin (for libel, among other things) because David’s 89-year-old father, who had dedicated his life to the business, did not want to die being falsely branded a racist.

There is not a scintilla of evidence in the bakery’s long history that it was “racist”.  These accusations arose because one or more of the shoplifters who pleaded guilty were African-American. But Oberlin is among the wokest of American colleges, and the students and administrators couldn’t pass up the chance to accuse someone of racism.

Further, trying to cut a deal whereby Oberlin students wouldn’t be reported to the cops for breaking the law is execrable. Does Oberlin think its students are above the law? During the trial, both Allyn Gibson (Lorna’s father in law) and her husband David died. They never lived to see justice done—if indeed it has been done.  The school kept appealing:

. . . after the verdict was handed down, David and I left Oberlin to seek treatment for his cancer at bigger hospitals in the South and in New York. We found out that the cancer had spread during the trial, and that we had no recourse. Before he died in 2019, David asked me to keep the store going. “Just keep the doors open, no matter what,” he said. He gave his life for the store, and I promised him that I would do everything I could to honor his final wish.

I still haven’t seen a penny from the school.

Talk about a lack of empathy, much less a lack of morality! Doesn’t Oberlin realize the “optics” of this situation? For that alone, since they apparently don’t recognize what’s right, they should pay up pronto.  The bakery is nearly bankrupt, all because of Oberlin, and Gibson’s needs the money because, thanks to Oberlin, business has tanked:

During the week, my girlfriends come in to have coffee and snacks. We have some locals and people from the surrounding towns who support us, but it’s not enough. Our shelves are bare because there’s no foot traffic anymore, so we don’t bother stocking them. Before, there was a constant stream of people coming into the shop. Now, we might have one or two customers throughout the whole morning. We still sell our whole wheat donuts, and apple fritters, chocolates and candies with homemade caramels, but far fewer of them.

If I got the money from the college, I wouldn’t buy a house, or go on vacation, or leave Ohio. I would replace the compressors for the refrigerators and replace the fryers and proofers that we use for our dough. I would pay off the mortgages on my properties that I’ve taken out in the past few years. I’d hire back employees and ramp up production. While the Ohio Supreme Court’s recent decision has made us hopeful, if the money doesn’t come through within the next couple months, I’ll be forced to declare bankruptcy and shut the doors of Gibson’s for good.

Yet as Ms. Gibson notes in the subtitle, “We won our case. But the school is refusing to pay.” That implies that the school won’t pay, but what’s written above implies that the Gibsons simply haven’t gotten the money, and I suppose these things take time. It’s not clear what Oberlin is doing; perhaps they’re just taking their sweet time, which is just like them. But I know one thing: if Oberlin has any sense of ethics, they should issue a check to the Gibsons IMMEDIATELY.

I tweeted to the College this morning.

20 thoughts on “Despite the civil verdict for $36 million, Oberlin College hasn’t paid Gibson’s Bakery

  1. The money (or at least a large chunk of it) is in escrow, and awaits a judicial order to be turned over to the Gibsons. Since Oberlin can make a federal appeal, such an order may have to wait a bit. Even if there is no federal appeal, the turning over of the money would not occur instantaneously.


      1. lest Gibson’s go under.

        I suspect you’ve hit the nail on the thumb there. As the surgeons allegedly say, “the operation (legal relief) was a success but the patient died”. Probably highly unethical on the behalf of the university’s lawyers, but $36M is $36M and that’s enough to afford several lives lost or destroyed.

    1. Oberlin can seek a writ of certiorari from SCOTUS to the Ohio Supreme Court, but only on a federal issue — here, the issues preserved below regarding the First Amendment Free Speech clause.

      I highly doubt SCOTUS would grant cert here. (The Court grants cert in something less than 1% of the cases in which the writ is sought. Last year, for example, the Court received around 8,000 petitions for writs of certiorari and decided 66 cases on the merits.)

      I don’t see anything particularly certworthy about the Oberlin case. And to the extent the Court as currently constituted is inclined to hear a case concerning libel law, it will likely be to narrow rather than expand libel law exceptions.

      For the Gibson family’s sake, if Oberlin seeks certiorari, I hope the Court denies the petition over its summer recess (decisions on cert petitions and emergency matters being among the business the Court continues to conduct over the long recess between late June and the first Monday in October when most of the justices leave DC).

      1. I agree with those comments regarding SCOTUS granting certiorari…highly unlikely on this (or most) issues. Especially, as also cited, with the current constituency of SCOTUS.

        Two questions:

        1. If Oberlin does appeal, will interest still accrue on the original trial court decision? I assume so.

        2. Related: I would be most curious as to what the total costs of defending this claim has amounted to thus far for Oberlin? Plaintiffs attorneys typically work on a contingency fee basis, or clients like the Gibson’s could never afford to prosecute such matters, especially of this duration. Though defense council has lost at each level, I bet they’re crying all the way to the bank.

    2. A federal appeal should not stay release of the bond. There is no automatic stay involved in a petition of certiorari to the US Supreme Court.

  2. Tuition and fees (not including housing and other costs) at Oberlin for 2022 amount to roughly 60,000 dollars per annum; might some parents of prospective students not perhaps consider sending their children elsewhere?

  3. As I wrote in response to Ms. Weiss’s posting on her blog site the details of this horrifically insensitive woke event, as the plaintiffs personal injury attorney which I am, I would file a Motion to Expedite payment by a certain drop dead date with an accompanying Order granting same, with failure to do so resulting in sanctions (note the Ohio State Supreme Court issued its Order with interest attached of $5M). Turner Howard

  4. I hadn’t heard of the Oberlin case until your post from yesterday. What an awful abuse of authority by Oberlin leaders. The following two year old article by Oberlin retired professor, Abraham Socher in Commentary, provides a great overview of the case.

    The Gibson family should receive their judgment as soon as legally required. Just as important there are many Oberlin faculty that should lose their jobs.

  5. We can be sure that the Oberlin admin and some of its faculty portrays this beacon of progressivism’s weaseling out of paying a civil judgement as a struggle for “academic freedom”. Since Oberlin joins Donald J. Trump in assuming a status above the rule of law, I suggest that the college ought to merge with the late-lamented Trump University.

  6. I notice that the tweet you shared has, for me, a Twitter warning on the link to the article that “the following media includes potentially sensitive content.”

  7. Contempt of court: levied not on Oberlin college, but on the responsible administrators. Fines and jail time to be commensurate with the sums involved.

  8. Perhaps, it is time for someone more articulate than I (me?) to submit an Op-ed to the Oberlin Review, that august “newspaper of record” for Oberlin College and surrounding areas.

    … as well as that other newspaper of record The New York Times.

    1. That old NYT article was really bad. It emphasizes that Allyn D. Gibson (the grandson) ran after & tackled the student shoplifter. But the article doesn’t mention that the student’s two friends then assaulted Allyn and his dad David in the street. The article also says “The bakery prosecuted the students, who are African-American”, but that’s not true: the police arrested the three students, and they were prosecuted by the Lorain County prosecutors for assault and shoplifting among other things. Notably the article names all of the individual Gibson family members, but names none of the student shoplifters who all pleaded guilty.

      [edit] My favourite bit of whataboutery from that article: “Allyn Gibson, the 32-year-old store clerk, was trained in martial arts”; the reporter should have gone all the way and said that Allyn’s hands were registered as lethal weapons.

  9. My colleague, an emeritus prof at Oberlin said this about Dr. Coyne’s post on the Oberlin-Gibson affair:
    Hello, Ray-
    I think Coyne has given a misleading picture of recent events regarding the Supreme Court Decision. It can be confusing. Working back from just a few days ago, the Ohio
    Supreme Court ruled in favor of Gibson’s bakery. The college had lost initially in a lower court at home, then again at the court of
    appeals for this area, and finally the Supreme Court. The college lawyers at each level argued the issues in terms of free speech and had
    some heavy hitter first amendment experts (e.g. Floyd Abrams) filling amicus briefs. However, some days before that verdict—and this is what
    I believe Coyne has confused—the bakery sought a ruling at the Supreme Court requiring the College to pay the multimillion dollar settlement.
    The Supreme Court said, no, or at least not yet. Now, unless there is some divine intervention, the College will have to pay up, including lawyers
    fees, and a whopping amount of daily interest.
    As I may have written, I chalk this up to stupid administrators—perhaps a redundancy—who were found to take an active role in support of
    libelous statements from organized student opinion. The bakery lost a lot of money and, as their lawyers presented it, severe damage to its reputation.
    The College had choked off daily orders amounting to many hundreds of dollars. Oberlin has never been a rich school; it’s endowment is less than
    one billion—not a great sum compared to many other places. I hate to see the college bled in this way, but I also hope it buys some clearer thinking
    about the tsunami of charges of racism. Those charges of course make it all the more difficult to address legitimate charges.

    Weak-kneed college administrations regularly give in to demands, that if not met, will, they believe, irreparably damage the institution if labeled “racist.”
    Dave Gibson, the third generation owner, died during the course of the trials. He was only in his sixties at most. A good friend of ours went to his memorial service
    and noted the very large numbers of black people in attendance.

    Take care, Jack

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