Oberlin gives up fighting Gibson’s Bakery, starts coughing up dough

September 9, 2022 • 10:25 am

I’ve written about the fracas between Gibson’s Bakery and Ohio’s Oberlin College since the affair began in late 2016 when three black Oberlin students were caught for shoplifting wine from the Bakery. Despite the student’s admission of guilt and court conviction, Oberlin punished the bakery, calling it racist, refused to apologize, and cutting off commercial relationships with the bakery, which previously supplied Oberlin’s food services.  Gibson’s asked for an apology, Oberlin refused (always saying they were “upholding their values”), and finally Gibson’s sued. After a 6 year battle, they won—the Ohio Supreme Court recently refused to hear Oberlin’s appeal against the huge civil damages (see below).

But Oberlin apparently remained reluctant to dig into their pockets and pay off the settlement. Now, however, according to both the NY Times and Legal Insurrection (articles below; click on screenshots), the College is coughing up what it owes. This may in part be due to Lorna Gibson’s plaintive piece on Bari Weiss’s Substack site, “Will I ever see the $36 million Oberlin College Owes Me?“, which shamed the College. (Her husband David and in-law Allyn Gibson died during the trial.)

Here are the pieces saying that Oberlin has given up and will pay off. Click on the screenshots below to read them:

First, a brief summary of the case from the NYT in case you haven’t been following it:

The incident that started the dispute unfolded in November 2016, when a student tried to buy a bottle of wine with a fake ID while shoplifting two more bottles by hiding them under his coat, according to court papers.

Allyn Gibson, a son and grandson of the owners, who is white, chased the student out onto the street, where two of his friends, also Black students at Oberlin, joined in the scuffle. The students later pleaded guilty to various charges. [They got Gibson down on the ground and were kicking him and punching him when the cops arrived.]

That altercation led to two days of protests; several hundred students gathered in front of the bakery, accusing it of having racially profiled its customers, according to court papers.

The lawsuit filed by Gibson’s contended that Oberlin had defamed the bakery when the dean of students, Meredith Raimondo, and other members of the administration took sides in the dispute by attending the protests, where fliers, peppered with capital letters, urged a boycott of the bakery and said that it was a “RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT OF RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION.”

Gibson’s also presented testimony that Oberlin had stopped ordering from the bakery but had offered to restore its business if charges were dropped against the three students or if the bakery gave students accused of shoplifting special treatment, which it refused to do.

But Gibson’s had no history of racism at all, and the accusations were without merit.

Here’s the legal outcome, including damages (total $36.6 million):

In the spring, a three-judge panel of the Ohio Court of Appeals confirmed the jury’s finding, after a six-week trial, that Oberlin was liable for libel, intentional infliction of emotional distress and intentional interference with a business relationship — that it had effectively defamed the business by siding with the protesters. The original jury award was even higher, at $44 million in punitive and compensatory damages, which was reduced by a judge. The latest amount consists of about $5 million in compensatory damages, nearly $20 million in punitive damages, $6.5 million in attorney’s fees and almost $5 million in interest.

In its ruling, the Court of Appeals agreed that students had a right to protest. But the court said that the flier and a related student senate resolution — which said that the store had a history of racial profiling — were not constitutionally protected opinion.

The Gibsons don’t even have to pay the attorney’s fees, and they do need the money. The Bakery’s business has tanked since the episode, and, as Lorna Gibson said:

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.

There’s no doubt that Oberlin’s own reputation has been damaged by its refusal to apologize, its vindictiveness against Gibson’s, and its unfounded cries of racism against Gibson’s. But Oberlin has a big endowment and can afford the hit. The NYT notes:

The college acknowledged that the size of the judgment, which includes damages and interest, was “significant.” But it said that “with careful financial planning,” including insurance, it could be paid “without impacting our academic and student experience.” Oberlin has a robust endowment of nearly $1 billion.

Still, there will be repercussions, with universities less likely to uncritically accept the rage of offended students:

“Such a large amount is certainly going to make institutions around the country take notice, and to be very careful about the difference between supporting students and being part of a cause,” said Neal Hutchens, a professor of higher education at the University of Kentucky. “It wasn’t so much the students speaking; it’s the institution accepting that statement uncritically. Sometimes you have to take a step back.”

Here’s the Legal Insurrection piece, which reproduces the College’s statement and its letter to its students and alums:

The College’s official statement from Scott Wargo, Oberlin’s Director of Communications:

Oberlin College initiates payment of awarded damages in Gibson’s Bakery case

Oberlin College and Conservatory has initiated payment in full of the $36.59 million judgment in the Gibson’s Bakery case and is awaiting payment information from the plaintiffs. This amount represents awarded damages and accumulated interest, and therefore no further payments are required.

On August 30, the Ohio Supreme Court issued its decision not to hear Oberlin’s appeal. Oberlin’s Board of Trustees has decided not to pursue the matter further.

We are disappointed by the Court’s decision. However, this does not diminish our respect for the law and the integrity of our legal system.

This matter has been painful for everyone. We hope that the end of the litigation will begin the healing of our entire community.

We value our relationship with the City of Oberlin, and we look forward to continuing our support of and partnership with local businesses as we work together to help our city thrive.

Oberlin’s core mission is to provide our students with a distinctive and outstanding undergraduate education. The size of this verdict is significant. However, our careful financial planning, which includes insurance coverage, means that we can satisfy our legal obligation without impacting our academic and student experience. It is our belief that the way forward is to continue to support and strengthen the quality of education for our students now and into the future.

As author Jacobson says, though, “Notice what is not in the statement: An apology. Oberlin College still appears not to understand or accept what it did wrong. It considers itself the victim.”  Indeed it does!

And that is perhaps the most reprehensible part of Oberlin’s behavior: they have never apologized to Gibson’s once, though what the College did was clearly wrong. The matter has been “painful for everyone” simply because Oberlin, by its intransigence, made it so.  We’ll see if they “partner” with Gibson’s bakery in the future!

Here’s an email to the whole college from Oberlin’s president, expressing no contrition for their actions—only assurance that the endowment will remain intact. What a callous place this “social justice” school is!

Dear Obies,

Today, Oberlin College and Conservatory initiated payment in full of the $36.59 million judgment in the Gibson’s Bakery case, an amount that represents the awarded damages and interest owed. Please see the college’s public statement below.

While this outcome is a disappointment, our financial plans for this possibility, which included insurance coverage, mean that this payment will not impact or diminish our academic or student life experience, or require us to draw down Oberlin’s endowment.

Like me, the majority of the campus was not here at the beginning of this matter in 2016. But it is also true that this case has been difficult for all of us who love this institution and its hometown. I am looking forward to all that is ahead, and remain focused on Oberlin’s core mission of providing a truly excellent liberal arts and musical education.

Carmen Twillie Ambar

I guess Oberlin can’t bear to say to its community “we were wrong.” That is an insensitive email, but of course the Woke never apologize. It’s not part of their playbook.

Now contrast that with this statement from Owen Rarric, one of the Gibsons’ lawyers:

We are happy to hear that full payment on the judgment is forthcoming, allowing the 137-year-old Gibson’s Bakery to move forward continuing to serve its community.  David Gibson was always hopeful that the family bakery’s relationship with Oberlin College could one day be restored. Though he was not able to see that day come to pass, his widow Lorna Gibson continues to say: “Oberlin College faculty, staff, and students have always been, and will always be, welcome in our store.” To that end, Lorna is willing to meet with President Ambar and her senior staff to discuss resumption of a long-term relationship whenever the College feels appropriate.

They’re still seeking reconciliation, and I sure hope that they’ll get an apology from the President. But I’m not holding my breath.

Here are David Gibson and Allyn W. Gibson at trial. Both died before their final victory in court.

[Photo credit Bob Perkoski for Legal Insurrection Foundation]
h/t: cesar and several other readers

26 thoughts on “Oberlin gives up fighting Gibson’s Bakery, starts coughing up dough

  1. A cynic might be inclined to wonder whether the rather steep cost in tuition and fees of attending one of the “wokest” of all colleges will perhaps be increasing in the future, despite the hideous verbiage (“will not impact . . .”) from the president.

  2. I guess Oberlin can’t bear to say to its community “we were wrong.” That is an insensitive email, but of course the Woke never apologize. It’s not part of their playbook.

    Absolutely! Great that Oberlin are finally coughing up, though.

  3. In a legal career that often involved suing people, I don’t recall a single instance of an apology or anything remotely resembling one, from any defendant, even those whose conduct that resulted in the lawsuit was egregious. (I did once get an apology from a relative of a defendant. Once. She said her brother had embarrassed the family.)

  4. This is good news for Gibson’s Bakery. Let’s hope that the monies they receive make them whole.

    Too bad that Oberlin can continue operating as before. The fact that they can do that suggests that the award may not be enough to deter them from future transgressions. Maybe other lawsuits will be in the offing. Those who contributed to the Oberlin endowment surely do not approve of their monies going to pay off a legal debt. They, too, should sue for redress if that’s possible.

    1. There are restrictions and very complicated rules and laws about this stuff. The Ohio AG will have reports on dispositions of these funds; the Uniform Management of Institutional Funds Act will have a role, along with hundreds/thousands of contractual provisions. Would be interesting to know how Oberlin is paying off. They could have waited to see how a judgment would be enforced against them — like the Lorrain County Sheriff tapping the till in the accounting office, or seizing a building for sale. Size of endowment is not directly relevant, as you suggest. This is not an “educational” purpose and many or most endowments have detailed conditions. Hence the reference to their insurers. It will be a prospective budgetary juggle, with even more large transactional costs. Insurers will pay and likely loans will be taken out, and then some unrestricted funds (few these days) and future donations will be used over many years to finally wind this up. Oberlin will pay a LOT more than $36,000,000.

  5. The news that Oberlin is finally paying up led me to make a kind of toast to Gibson’s Bakery this morning: in its honor, I doffed my breakfast slice of kringle from a
    local Scandinavian bakery. The “distinctive education” mentioned in the college’s mealy-mouthed announcement has come not from the college, but from the trial it lost; may this prove enlightening for other academic institutions.

    1. He attended Phillips Academy according to the link. An extremely privileged education.

      Hmmmm….Wonder if there are any class issues involved in this case? The highly privileged beating up on what can be considered working class.

      1. “Oberlin offered to restore its business if charges were dropped against the three students or if the bakery gave students accused of shoplifting special treatment.” Why, if this agreement had been reached, Oberlin could include the right to rob local merchants as the most “distinctive” part of the education it offers for a tuition charge of $61,106 per year. This incidental part of the story speaks volumes about the psychology of “woke” performance in vogue at expensive institutions.

      2. Yes class for sure. Elijah is just another rich New Jersey suburbanite who is failing upward. Meanwhile all the Gibsons’ employees (including the Black employees) have been laid off for years, and two of the Gibsons have died, while waiting for the college to pay up.

  6. This is a troubling story with a gratifyingly just outcome, but I find your glib slurring of Oberlin as “woke” equally troubling. Oberlin behavior was far beyond woke, by any realistic definition of the term. The effect is to accuse all who claim wokeness of Oberlin’s offenses. That seems like a tribal impulse in this context.

    1. Oh, for crying out loud. Oberlin is woke, just VERY WOKE. And if wokeness is used pejoratively, as I do nobody wants to claim it. “Tribal impulse”, “glib slurring”: you need to read the Roolz.
      Try to make sensible comments on this site, for this one is not only gratuitous, but rude.

  7. I have been following this story with great interest. I remain astonished at the reprehensible conduct displayed by Oberlin’s students and staff. Justice has finally been served as best it could be, but nothing will remove the stain that a good family suffered at the hands of wokeism.

    1. I suspect there were many students and staff who disagreed with Oberlin’s position, remaining silent in self defense.

      1. Unfortunately many people see the consequences of trying to swim against the woke tide and choose not to engage. I could easily see myself saying nothing if my job (and feeding my family) was on the line. In some ironic sense Gibson’s Bakery were *so* badly treated that they had nothing more to loose by taking legal action.

      2. I know there were alumni who were, specifically my very liberal daughter, who went when tuition was only $25000 a year. She loved it, and I did too, so that’s old days long gone.

  8. This is a welcome day. Sometimes the good guys win and as for their opponents: well, let them eat day old cake from a revitalized Gibson’s.

  9. Allyn Gibson, a son and grandson of the owners, who is white, chased the student out onto the street, where two of his friends, also Black students

    Yet again, my pet peeve of capitalizing one racial color and not another. I’m still waiting for this to balance out – in either direction. Tangentially, not everyone who is deaf is part of Deaf culture, and not every member of Deaf culture is deaf. And have people started capitalizing ‘trans’ yet?

  10. Insurance policies don’t normally cover intentional acts like this. Is there something different about this type of insurance policy that will cover Oberlin’s costs here?

    Also, I can’t help but note the very careful wording of the NYT article. They “joined the scuffle.” How would this situation have been described if it was white students beating a black bakery owner in the street? “The lawsuit contended.” “Gibson’s Bakery said…” How would this article have been worded if various roles were reversed? And the NYT sure left out a ton of information about just how virulently mendacious the administration was in its various actions while attempting to (well, succeeding in) destroying Gibson’s Bakery’s reputation in the town and its business.

    1. There was something about some money (of Oberlin’s) being put into an escrow account overseen by Zurich Insurance when Oberlin filed the appeal, to insure against default (from bankruptcy, say) should the appeal fail, as Oberlin’s did. I agree that Zurich’s shareholders would be mighty pissed about being on the hook for the entire amount of a damage award like this. Surely this behaviour would be written in as an exclusion. This is not an award for a slip and fall because Oberlin didn’t salt its sidewalks.

  11. As a former daily newspaper journalist of more than 30 years and a supporter of news media, I must say the Times’ story on this today was inexcusably, transparently biased.

    Even the lead contained a not-so-subtle dig at Gibson’s: “… a local bakery that **said** it had been defamed and falsely accused of racism after a worker caught a Black student shoplifting.” (Emphasis mine.)

    Why do I say that? Because in standard practice, journalists are to use the words “alleged” and “allegations” in a case as yet unproven in a court of law, but once the case is settled, all of that goes away. In other words, the “alleged burglar” becomes the “burglar” once he is convicted.

    In this lead, that rule was grossly violated. The reporter (and editors) used “said” when, by standard practice, they should have gone with, “… a local bakery that **was** defamed and falsely accused…”

    In addition, a huge amount of context was left out, leaving many commenters to suggest that white students who had been caught shoplifting would have been treated differently. In fact, evidence was introduced at trial that (I don’t have precise numbers, but this is close) of some 40 students arrested for that crime in recent years, six were black.

    In addition, the young man who shoplifted said, in court, that this was not about race, but, y’know, shoplifting. Numerous people stepped forward, including black former employees, to defend Gibson’s from willy-nilly charges of racism.

    None of that in this story, which figuratively “held its nose” and failed to be neutral in reporting a verdict and outcome the reporter, editors, and perhaps the paper itself, did not like.

  12. >of some 40 students arrested for that crime in recent years, six were black.

    15% compared to a national average of 13% of the US population. Given the small numbers, that is clearly just a marginal difference (Technically, I guess, 5 would have been more representative at 12.5%), but I’m sure someone will complain about that. I’m wondering how arrest stats compare with the demographic breakdown of students at Oberlin – and about the whole ‘black’/’non-black’ classifications. Maybe (hypothetically, not to project) we’ll see no evidence of arrests of Asian-American students; I wonder how people would interpret that: pro-Asian-American bias?

  13. Weird to think this whole kerfuffle started with three guys sitting around saying, “hey let’s go get some booze, we have fake I.D.s”. It’s Kafka-esque.

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