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Cops and Courts

Gibson's Bakery v. Oberlin College: Jury awards more than $33 million punitive damages

  • 061219-GIBSONS-VS-OBERLIN-KB01

    Lee Plakas, an attorney representing Gibson's Bakery, prepares to question Meredith Raimondo, vice president and dean of students at Oberlin College, who testified on Wednesday, June 12.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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ELYRIA — A Lorain County jury has awarded $33.2 million in punitive damages in Gibson’s Bakery in its lawsuit against Oberlin College and Meredith Raimondo, the college’s dean of students. The family business sued the college and its dean of students after protests by students and allegations of racial profiling after a 2016 shoplifting incident in which an Oberlin student tried to use false identification to buy alcohol.

On Friday the same jury awarded Gibson’s business and family members more than $11 million in actual or compensatory damages, bringing the total award to over $44 million.  Ohio law limits punitive damages to twice the compensatory amount, which would seem to put the award above the legally permissible amount. 

 

This is a developing story and will be updated.

 

Previous reporting

ELYRIA —  “What does it take for a company worth $1 billion to know you care?”  That’s the question attorney Lee Plakas asked of the jury in his closing argument today in the punitive damage phase of the Gibson family’s lawsuit against Oberlin College and Meredith Raimondo, the college’s dean of students. Plakas asked jurors to award up to a maximum of $35 million — $5 million to $8 million in damages to Gibson’s Bakery, $6 million to $9 million for Allyn Gibson and $12 million to $18 million for David Gibson.   

Oberlin College attorney Rachelle Zidar made the case for a much smaller amount. Zidar told the jury the college is sorry, is working on improving student behavior and asked the jury not to  make a massive award that would impact Oberlin’s bottom line. “Allow us to move forward and not go backward.” 

Ohio law limits the amount of punitive damages a jury can award to two times the initial amount for actual or compensatory damages. That puts the maximum amount jurors can award in this case at about $23 million. A Lorain County jury on Friday awarded Gibson family members and the business more than $11 million.

The lawsuit stems from a November 2016 over a shoplifting incident a student tried to buy alcohol with a fake ID and shoplift items. He was chased from the store by Allyn D. Gibson. The two got into an altercation outside, and two more students joined. The students are black, while the Gibsons are white. Following the incident, other students protested, alleging a pattern of racist behavior by the Gibsons, and the college ended its order for baked goods with the store.

The students involved in the shoplifting incident all pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, and stated their culpability in court while noting Gibson’s reaction was not racially motivated.

Gibson’s sued the college and Raimondo alleging libel, infliction of emotional distress and interference with business relationships after several days of the protests.

Lorain County judge John Miraldi gave the jury its instruction and sent them to deliberate following the lunch break.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.


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