A jury has ordered Oberlin College to pay $11 million to Gibson’s Bakery for wrongly accusing it of racially profiling students.
In November 2016, three black Oberlin students were arrested at Gibson’s Bakery, which is very close to campus. Jonathan Aladin was arrested for attempted robbery for allegedly trying “to steal wine or otherwise illegally obtain wine” from the bakery. The two other students, Cecelia Whettston and Endia J. Lawrence, were arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault.
The lawsuit claims that staff members of Oberlin College attempted to discredit the bakery after that.
The suit also said that Oberlin Vice President and Dean of Students, Meredith Raimondo, and other college staff members, gave out hundreds of copies of a flier to the community and media claiming that Gibson’s Bakery racially profiled and discriminated against the three students.
The flier read, “This is a RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION.”
According to the lawsuit, Oberlin College cut off its business ties with the bakery. It had previously provided baked goods for the school’s dining services through a third-party company. They reinstated those ties three months later, but the bakery still suffered ill effects.
In August 2017, all three of the students pleaded guilty to attempted theft and aggravated trespass. Aladan also confessed to using a fake ID to buy alcohol when a clerk tried to detain him.
“This unfortunate incident was triggered by an attempt to purchase alcohol,” Aladin wrote, according to court documents. “I believe the employees of Gibson’s actions were not racially motivated. They were merely trying to prevent an underage sale.”
A jury found Oberlin College liable for defamation, infliction of intentional emotional distress and intentional interference of business relationships on Friday.
Donica Thomas Varner, Oberlin vice president and general counsel, wrote in a letter that she and other staff members were disappointed with the verdict.
“Neither Oberlin College nor Dean Meredith Raimondo defamed a local business or its owners, and they never endorsed statements made by others. Rather, the College and Dr. Raimondo worked to ensure that students’ freedom of speech was protected and that the student demonstrations were safe and lawful, and they attempted to help the plaintiffs repair any harm caused by the student’s protests.”