Oberlin begins $36 million libel payment to bakery

Oberlin College and Conservatory said it began paying more than $36 million to owners of a local bakery who claimed they were falsely accused of racism after three black students were arrested in November 2016.

Thursday’s announcement comes just days after the Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear Oberlin’s appeal from a lower court ruling.

“We are disappointed with the Court’s decision. However, this in no way diminishes our respect for the law and the integrity of our legal system,” the college said in a statement.

The case stems from an incident in November 2016 when Allyn Gibson, the son of Gibson’s Bakery co-owner David Gibson, tackled a student he suspected of stealing two bottles of wine from the store . Two female students attempted to intervene and all three were later arrested.

In 2017, the family bakery sued the college for siding with the three students.

The students said they had been racially profiled and their only crime was trying to buy alcohol with fake IDs. The bakery worker said he was attacked by the students after catching them shoplifting.

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The confrontation led to a series of protests where hundreds of Oberlin students, along with some professors and deans, stood outside the bakery to hand out flyers stating that the bakery “is a RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION,” according to a defamation lawsuit filed by its owners.

“Today we urge you to shop elsewhere in light of a particularly heinous event involving the owners of this establishment and local law enforcement,” the flyers read.

Earlier this year, a three-judge panel agreed that Oberlin, a private liberal arts college and music conservatory in northeast Ohio, was liable for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and intentional interference in a business relationship.

On Thursday, Oberlin’s board of directors announced its decision not to pursue the case.

“This case has been painful for everyone. We hope the end of the litigation will begin healing for our entire community,” the college said in a statement.

“We value our relationship with the City of Oberlin, and look forward to continuing our support and partnership with local businesses as we work together to help our city thrive,” the board added.

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Elaine R. Knight