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Ohio Supreme Court rules Oberlin doesn’t have to pay $36M defamation judgment while it appeals ruling

The Ohio Supreme Court this week ruled that Oberlin College can pause payments from a $36 million judgment the school faces for defaming a local grocery store while the school appeals the judgment.

In ruling against Oberlin, a jury in 2019 determined campus leaders had participated in a racially motivated smear attempt against nearby Gibson’s Bakery, a small 130-year-old grocery that had done business with the school for decades.

Originally, the judgment against Oberlin was $44 million, but a state law limited the final amount to $25 million, plus $6 million in attorney’s fees. Interest on the judgment has raised the total amount to $36 million.

But the unsigned decision by the Ohio Supreme Court this week gets Oberlin off the hook, at least for now.

In April, the Ohio Ninth District Court of Appeals upheld the 2019 ruling against Oberlin. The school is now appealing that ruling to the state Supreme Court.

But the delay in payments have put the bakery defamed by Oberlin in a deep financial hole, and a spokesperson for the bakery said if the checks don’t start coming soon, it “may only survive for the next couple of months.”

The case itself became a nationwide news story three years ago, when the initial judgment was handed down.

In November 2016, a black Oberlin student named Jonathan Aladin was caught trying to steal a bottle of wine from Gibson’s. While chasing him outside the story, a Gibson’s employee wrestled with Aladin and two other Oberlin students, Cecilia Whettstone and Endia Lawrence. Police arrived at the scene, and nearly a year later, all three students pled guilty to various crimes.

Despite the students’ admissions of guilt, campus racial grievance groups took action to harm the bakery. Student groups accused Gibson’s of having racially profiled the three students and pushed Oberlin to sever all ties with the bakery, which had supplied its cafeterias with food.

Soon, the Oberlin Student Senate passed a resolution stating Gibson’s “had a history of racial profiling and discriminatory treatment.” Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo joined the demonstrations, using a bullhorn to shout that the Gibsons were “racist.”

With Oberlin faculty joining in the push to sever ties with the bakery, the college then suspended its ties with Gibson’s between November 14, 2016 and January 30, 2017.

The actions taken by the school were declared defamatory by a jury in 2019, but the bakery still has not been able to collect any of the money it is owed.

“The Gibsons have correctly completed every step necessary to properly execute on its judgment and collect on the surety bond in this case,” says the Gibsons’ Supreme Court filing against Oberlin. “All that is left is for the surety to make the payment. Belatedly realizing their error, Oberlin asks this Court to come to its rescue. The Court should not.”

The Ohio Supreme Court has not indicated when it plans to take up the case.

MORE: Oberlin appeals to delay and avoid paying multi-million dollar verdict to bakery it defamed

IMAGE: Oberlin College Archives

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