Oberlin College, a highly rated liberal arts educational institution in Ohio, with a long tradition of providing educational opportunities for African Americans, has been assessed a $11.2 million penalty from a Ohio jury. The case involved three Black students who claimed they were victims of racial profiling after they were caught stealing from a local bakery. The ruling found that the “college inflicted emotional distress, interfered with business relationships and libeled the family-owned bakery in downtown Oberlin.”
In 2016, three Black students were arrested after they were caught stealing and attempting to buy alcohol with a fake ID at Gibson’s Bakery. The students claimed that they were being racially profiled by the bakery. As a result, the arrests were met with protests from Oberlin students and faculty. Additionally, evidence presented at the trial showed that the dean of students, Meredith Raimondo, created a flyer that told students to boycott Gibson’s Bakery, claiming the local business had a history of racial profiling.
In 2017, the students pleaded guilty to the attempted theft and admitted that they were not racially profiled. As a result of the lawsuit, Oberlin was ordered to pay damages to Gibson’s Bakery of at least $11.2 million. The penalty could increase after an upcoming hearing on punitive damages.
Donica Thomas Varner, vice president, general counsel and secretary of Oberlin College, in a statement to alumni, wrote that “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.”