Oberlin College may face a very costly reckoning for its cries of ‘racism’
I am cheered by a story from Friday that seems to have received little notice. Rachel Frommer reports for the Free Beacon:
Oberlin College and its vice president have been accused of libel and slander by a local bakery, the owners of which allege in a suit that administrators supported students in an unfounded campaign to paint the establishment's owners as racist.
The suit against the college and Meredith Raimondo, who is also dean of students, was filed on Nov. 7 in Lorain County Common Pleas Court on behalf of Gibson Bros. Inc., and owners David and Allyn Gibson, the Morning Journal reported.
The account presented in that local news report highlights allgations that could be extremely damaging to Oberlin:
The complaint arises from protests some Oberlin College students held in front of Gibson’s Food Mart and Bakery, 23 W. College St., in November 2016 as a response to three of their classmates being arrested and charged with attempting to steal from the store.
Jonathan Aladin, 20, Cecelia Whettston, 19, and Endia Lawrence, 20, pleaded guilty in August to charges of attempted theft and aggravated trespassing. Aladin also pleaded guilty to underage purchase of alcohol.
Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James L. Miraldi placed the trio on one year of community control and ordered them to pay restitution to the store.
As part of the plea deal, they were required to read statements explicitly stating the incident was not racially motivated.
The suit alleges, despite the Oberlin Police Department releasing the incident report refuting the racial narrative, the college persisted in assisting students in protesting the store to bolster an attempt to brand the college as having a ”legacy of being a strong advocate for and a strong supporter of African American students and racial minorities.”
The allegations in that last paragraph, if they stands up in court, could justify punitive damages being awarded, since Oberlin knew, or should have known, that the racial allegations were false, and yet persisted in aiding students in their attempt to economically harm the bakery.
The allegation that Oberlin officials knew or should have known that racism was not a factor in the arrests, and yet allowed and facilitated students in deliberately damaging the business future of the bakery, should open the door to punitive damages. The purpose of punitive damages is deter future misbehavior. Therefore, the sum awarded as punitive damages needs to be big enough to matter to the defendant.
Oberlin College enjoys an endowment of over $800 million, or almost $300,000 per student, which will sound mighty impressive to a jury in Lorain County, Ohio, population 300,000, 85% white, and as hard hit by deindustrialization as anyplace one could find. Oberlin pegs the cost of attending it at just under $68,000 per year. That compares to the per capita income in Lorain County of $25,000 per year. Oberlin's per capita endowment is 14 times the average income of the county in which it lives. I am not sure that the social justice warrior impulses of the coddled students at Oberlin will pull on the heartstrings of jurors who formerly worked at one of the impressive list of closed factories in the county.
Oberlin can afford the best lawyers in the country. What the plaintiff needs is a silver tongued member of the tort bar, able to appeal to jurors in the name of justice, and personally after a third of the possible punitive damages award here.
I can very easily imagine a punitive damages award sufficiently large as to “get the attention” of Oberlin’s management. Generally speaking, poorer communities surrounding wealthy colleges are hotbeds of resentment against the privilege and arrogance on campus toward “townies.” Typically, plaintiffs’ lawyers argue that an arrogant large institution, if it is to change its ways, needs to be held liable for damages affecting its net worth measurably -- by whole digit percentages of its wealth or income. One percent of Oberlin’s endowment would be eight million dollars, for instance. If jurors want Oberlin to stop calling innocent people racists, then a punitive damages award in the millions could well be in prospect.