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Oberlin College begins payment of $36.59 million to Gibson's Bakery after Ohio Supreme Court refuses to hear appeal

Oberlin College was ordered to pay damages to the owners of Gibson's Bakery, who accused the college of ruining their business by branding them as racists.

OBERLIN, Ohio — Nearly six years after a shoplifting incident exploded into controversy, Oberlin College has announced that it has begun the payment of $36.59 million to Gibson's Bakery. 

The decision to pay comes just over a week after the Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear Oberlin's appeal of the $25 million judgment awarded to Gibson's, who had accused the college of ruining their business by branding them as racists.

"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," Oberlin College stated in a news release on Thursday. "This matter has been painful for everyone. We hope that the end of the litigation will begin the healing of our entire community."

According to the college, the total amount paid to Gibson's represents the judgement, plus attorney fees and accumulated interest. "Therefore no further payments are required."

In November of 2016, Allyn Gibson, son of co-owner David Gibson, chased and tackled a Black male student he suspected of having stolen a bottle of wine at the store. Two Black female students who were with the male student tried to intervene. All three were arrested and later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges.

The shoplifting arrests led to protests outside Gibson’s Bakery where flyers were handed out, some by an Oberlin College vice president and dean of students, accusing the Gibsons of being racist. A Student Senate resolution condemning the Gibsons was emailed to all students and was posted in a display case at school’s student center, where it remained for a year. Oberlin College officials ordered its campus food provider to stop buying bakery items from Gibson’s.

"It's definitely about right and wrong. And to be quite frank, the three students that shoplifted, they admitted their crimes," says Brandon McHugh, attorney for the Gibsons. "It was Oberlin College that could never admit that what they did was wrong."

Gibson's Bakery filed a lawsuit in November of 2017, accusing the college and the dean of slandering Gibson's as a "racist establishment" and taking steps to destroy the family's livelihood.

"We lost so much of the business after the protests that we weren't getting the business," recalls co-owner Lorna Gibson. "And so I couldn't afford to keep the shelves filled. And then when the pandemic hit, it was like the perfect storm that didn't help either."

A Lorain County jury awarded the Gibsons $44 million in compensatory and punitive damages in June 2019 after a five week trial. A judge later reduced the award to $25 million.

"The size of this verdict is significant," Oberlin College added in its statement. "However, our careful financial planning, which includes insurance coverage, means that we can satisfy our legal obligation without impacting our academic and student experience."

David Gibson died in November 2019 at age 65. His father, Allyn Gibson, died in February at the age of 93.

"We've always been here. We've always treated everybody properly and that's all we just wanted. That's all we wanted from the start just to continue on our lives and keep the store going," Lorna Gibson adds.

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