Oberlin College Racial Dispute

Pedestrians pass the storefront of Gibson’s Bakery in Oberlin. 

The owners of Gibson’s Bakery have filed an appeal in the landmark libel case against Oberlin College, in which a jury initially awarded the family $44 million in damages, the Chronicle Telegram reported.

A judge lowered the jury award as it fell outside the bounds of Ohio law.

According to the Chronicle Telegram, it is expected the damage cap will be a main focus in the appeal by attorneys for Gibson’s.

Oberlin College filed its appeal on Oct. 8 in the Ninth District Court of Ohio.

The lawsuit, which named the college and Meredith Raimondo, vice president and dean of students, as defendants, stemmed from a Nov. 9, 2016, shoplifting incident and fight at the Oberlin bakery that involved three African-American Oberlin College students and Allyn D. Gibson, a white store clerk. The incident sparked protests, which included disseminating flyers.

Judge John R. Miraldi reduced the damages, saying owner David Gibson should receive $14 million in compensatory and punitive damages, his father and family patriarch Allyn Gibson $6.5 million, and their Oberlin business, Gibson’s Bakery, $4.5 million, the Associated Press reported in June.

Since the verdict, the college made a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, or requesting the judge overrule the jury’s verdict and requested a new trial.

Gibson’s lead lawyer was Lee Plakas of Tzangas, Plakas, Mannos LTD in Akron.

Plakas characterized the case as a libel case. He said he believes damage caps for defamation by libel or slander are unconstitutional and would be fought on appeal, the Chronicle Telegram reported.

Plakas said Oberlin administrators hoped to deflect attention from the college’s problems with African-American students by backing students regarding Gibson’s Bakery.

“Given the repeated attempts by Oberlin College to discount the jury’s verdict, their decision to appeal comes as no surprise,” Plakas said in an emailed statement to the Cleveland Jewish News Oct. 8. “But despite the college’s attempt to reframe this as a First Amendment issue, the law and the facts of this case remain clearly on the side of the Gibson family. The law and the jury’s verdict both remind our country that claimed free speech has its limits, even on a college campus.

“The jury’s verdict sent a clear message that institutions like Oberlin College should not be permitted to bully others while hiding behind the claimed shield of free speech,” he said. “There are no exemptions from the law of defamation – a fact we trust will be confirmed during the appeal process.”

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