Oberlin College is seeking a new trial after being ordered to pay $25 million to the owners of a market who accused the Ohio school of ruining their business by encouraging protests and branding them racists after a shoplifting incident involving black students.
The Chronicle-Telegram in Elyria reports Oberlin alleges a variety of legal and procedural errors, including the court not moving the trial from Lorain County and the jury awarding “excessive damages.” The college says those errors led to “wildly excessive verdicts influenced by passion and prejudice.”
The Gibsons’ lawyers oppose the retrial request, calling it “baseless.”
A jury this summer awarded Gibson’s and its owners $44 million. A judge cut the total because of a cap on damages but added $6.5 million in attorney fees.
Oberlin College began admitting black people and women in the 1830s, became a center for the abolitionist movement, and served as a stop on the Underground Railroad for slaves fleeing the South. Its graduates include playwright Thornton Wilder, author Sinclair Lewis, singer Liz Phair, actor John Cazale and actress Lena Dunham.
The case stems from an incident in November 2016 when students along with some Oberlin staff began gathering in front of Gibson’s Bakery to protest what they called store’s longtime racist policies after the arrest of three black students. A police report said one of the students was confronted by Allyn Gibson, who is white, after stealing wine. The confrontation turned physical and the students punched and kicked Gibson as he lay on the ground, the report said.
The student caught shoplifting was initially charged with robbery. All three students later pleaded guilty to misdemeanors and read statements in court saying Allyn Gibson’s actions that day weren’t racially motivated.
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