Catering to the PC mob is going to cost Oberlin College big bucks

See also: Oh-oh! Oberlin College’s insurance company says their policy doesn’t cover the huge verdict against it

Oberlin College, which has become one of the most politically correct campuses in the United States, has just discovered that allowing and encouraging social justice warriors to damage their perceived enemies can be expensive.  A local jury has just awarded Gibson's Bakery, a five-generation institution in Oberlin, Ohio, $11 million in its lawsuit against the college for throwing its support behind a student-led boycott over false charges of racism.  This amount could triple to $33 million if punitive damages — intended to punish and disincentivize egregious behavior — are awarded in proceedings Tuesday next week.

Judge John Miraldi reading jury verdict.  (Photo credit: Legal Insurrection Foundation.)

Legal Insurrection has done a stand-out job in covering the case — by far the best in the nation.  Its report on the jury verdict is also outstanding.

In brief, the case arose from this incident, as described by Emily Bamforth of

Three black Oberlin students were arrested after one tried to use a fake ID and shoplifted from Gibson's in 2016, according to the Chronicle-Telegram, which extensively covered the case. Allyn Gibson, the white son of the bakery's owner, followed the students out of the store and got into a physical altercation with them.

After the students were arrested, student protests erupted, claiming that the robbery charge and physical conflict were racially motivated. Protestors urged patrons to shop elsewhere.

The protests became so large that Oberlin's police chief testified that he was considering pulling in the county's riot team, according to the Chronicle-Telegram. The divide was covered by national media outlets, including the Associated Press and CBS.

The students pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in August 2017, reading statements into the record that Gibson was within his rights to detain the robber and that the conflict was not racially motivated.

Oberlin College's liability arose because its dean of students, Meredith Raimundo, threw in with the protesters and the college ordered its dining services provider to stop buying from Gibson's.  William Jacobson writes on Legal Insurrection:

Meredith Raimondo was held liable on the libel and interference with business relations, but not intentional infliction of emotional distress. By stipulation, the college is responsible for any amounts awarded against her, so she will not pay anything out of pocket (snip)

The verdict sends a strong message that colleges and universities cannot simply wind up and set loose student social justice warriors and then wash their hands of the consequences. In this case, a wholly innocent 5th-generation bakery was falsely accused of being racist and having a history [of] racial profiling after stopping three black Oberlin College students from shoplifting. The students eventually pleaded guilty, but not before large protests and boycotts intended to destroy the bakery and defame the owners. The jury appears to have accepted that Oberlin College facilitated the wrongful conduct against the bakery.

The bigger picture is like many others on the academic left, Oberlin behaved with incredible arrogance toward the locals — hardly a new phenomenon, as the venerable expression "town-gown conflict" reveals.  But with the advent of P.C. domination, an added dimension has been added.  Jacobson earlier wrote:

I'm still shaking my head at the tone-deafness of the defense in belittling this family business which has sustained five generations of Gibsons, and at the time of the protests sustained three generations: 90-year-old Allyn W. Gibson, his son David Gibson, and his grandson Allyn D. Gibson. There also were almost a dozen employees. After the protests, the Gibsons stopped taking salaries and most of the employees have been laid off. This is real life to these people. To say that the business was worth only $35,000 erases the lives of these people. Maybe it's just the plaintiff's lawyer in me coming out, but I'd cross examine this defense expert and college president, and show in closing argument, the tuition, room and board charges at Oberlin College. This business, which has been an important feature of the community since 1885, is worth less than one semester at Oberlin College?

He also wrote about the larger acute divide of higher education from the society that supports it:

First, from the start of this case I have questioned the aggressive and demeaning attacks on the Gibsons as a defense strategy. There is no evidence that the Gibsons did anything wrong, unless you consider stopping people from stealing something wrong. That lawful act of protecting one's property nonetheless has devastated a 5-generation business because of Oberlin College racial politics. Gibson's Bakery survived two World Wars, the Depression, the turmoil of the 1960s, and the so-called Great Recession, but it may not survive Oberlin College's social justice warriors and their faculty and administrative enablers. If the jury understands this, the other pieces of the case fall into line, factually and legally.

Second, I never cease to be amazed at the arrogance of the college community as reflected in the defense that Gibson's Bakery was close to worthless. It's the arrogance of the credentialed. A business that is in its 5th generation, and that currently supports three of those generations, is something of value. A business that employed almost a dozen local employees prior to this incident is something to value. Ultimately the jury will have to put a monetary value on the dramatic drop in business, and the loss of reputation.

Oberlin remains arrogant:

Dear Members of the Oberlin Community:

I am writing to update you on the lawsuit that Gibson Bros., Inc. filed against Oberlin College and Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo in the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas in November 2017.

Following a trial that spanned almost a full month, the jury found for the plaintiffs earlier today.

We are disappointed with the verdict and regret that the jury did not agree with the clear evidence our team presented.

Neither Oberlin College nor Dean Meredith Raimondo defamed a local business or its owners, and they never endorsed statements made by others. Rather, the College and Dr. Raimondo worked to ensure that students' freedom of speech was protected and that the student demonstrations were safe and lawful, and they attempted to help the plaintiffs repair any harm caused by the student protests.

As we have stated, colleges cannot be held liable for the independent actions of their students. Institutions of higher education are obligated to protect freedom of speech on their campuses and respect their students' decision to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights. Oberlin College acted in accordance with these obligations.

While we are disappointed with the outcome, Oberlin College wishes to thank the members of the jury for their attention and dedication during this lengthy trial. They contributed a great deal of time and effort to this case, and we appreciate their commitment.

Our team will review the jury's verdict and determine how to move forward.

Donica Thomas Varner
Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary

I suspect that Oberlin College has a liability insurance policy that will cover its damages.  If not, coming up with $11 to $33 million will cause cuts to its budget.  It may have about three quarters of a billion dollars in its endowment, but the income from that endowment is committed to spending programs already.  And with its reputation of a P.C. hellhole spreading, applications and enrollment have plummeted, and cutbacks are already underway.

Oberlin's trustees need to step up and do a thorough review of the college's administration's handling of this affair, which has seriously damaged the financial and reputational welfare of the institution for which they hold legal and moral responsibility.  They should — but probably won't — seek the advice of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a group that helps trustees carry out their intellectual and moral fiduciary responsibilities, instead of defaulting to passivity in the name of "academic freedom."

If Oberlin's insurance carrier gets stuck with the bill, we can expect liability insurance costs to skyrocket not just for Oberlin, but for higher education everywhere.  Insurance companies now are on notice that their academic clients can be held responsible for the excesses of social justice warriors whom they coddle.

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