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Things Just Got $22 Million Dollars Worse for Ultra-Progressive Oberlin College


Things just went from horrendous to absolutely devastating for ultra-progressive Oberlin College in Ohio.

On Thursday, the previous week’s $11.2 million jury verdict against the school for wrongfully encouraging the boycott of a local bakery was increased threefold, plus attorneys’ fees. The increase in damages was due to a secondary jury finding that Oberlin acted with malice in defaming Gibson’s, a local bakery.

The case arose shortly after the 2016 election, when three African American Oberlin students were arrested for attempting to steal bottles of wine from Gibson’s Bakery; without appropriate investigation, Oberlin’s Student Senate declared the incident a case of racial profiling, and immediately passed a resolution ceasing all support for Gibson’s Bakery.

Shortly thereafter, the college’s administration emailed students, heavily implying that Gibson’s had discriminated against the black students. Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo and others also handed out flyers urging a boycott, citing Gibson’s long history of racial profiling.

The incident, however, had not been the result of racial profiling at all.  The three students arrested had attempted to shoplift and engaged in physical altercations with store staff – and they admitted as much in open court.

The now $33 million-plus verdict will likely be reduced by the Ohio court to $22 million, in order to comply with state caps on tort damages. Still, $22 million and hefty attorneys fees is an amount likely to wreak financial havoc on Oberlin.

In its defense, the school argued that it was cash-poor; while the college has a sizeable endowment, its enrollment is dwindling. When compared with other Ohio universities, Oberlin is not in robust financial shape. Further, Oberlin argued, as a non-profit educational institution, tripling damages would ultimately harm students more than anyone.

Ultimately, the jury was unconvinced, perhaps because Gibson’s showed that the school holds over $1 billion in assets (on which it pays no taxes) and has numerous employees who earn over $100,000. Some of those employees make over $500,000. That, plus the underlying defamation case, presented such egregious circumstances that the increase was thought to be warranted.

[image via screenshot/HOVTL News]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos