Hasnain says:

Don't know how to feel about this, given this is the first I'm hearing about it and this is from the point of view by a paper (presumably) slanted against the college.

Per a reliable legal commenter on HN, though, the data is scary:

A bit more factual context:
1. The student "protests" erupted the day after the 2016 election results came in, with a corresponding politically inflammatory element at work in the background.

2. The underlying incident involved an underaged black student who attempted to buy a bottle of wine, was refused, and was then found to have 2 other bottles under his coat as he walked out. When the owner's son chased him out, an altercation ensued and, as police arrived, they found the owner's son on the ground being hit and kicked by three persons, including 2 female friends of the shoplifter.

3. I use shoplifter, instead of "alleged shoplifter," because a guilty plea was entered admitting to the crime and also acknowledging that racial profiling had nothing to do with the incident.

4. Protests immediately erupted and were so volatile that the local police chief said he felt he had to call in outside help from a riot squad.

5. The students who did the protests claimed that Gibson's bakery not only had engaged in racial profiling in the particular incident but also that it was a long-time racist presence in the local business community. (Gibson's had been founded in 1880 and was strictly a family owned business, with the business supporting 3 generations of the family at the time of the incident).

6. The Oberlin dean of students (Merideth Raimondo) appears to have joined in the protests directly, shouting through a bullhorn and handing out fliers calling Gibson's racist. She claimed she used the bullhorn for 1 minute only and only to tell the students to observe safety precautions. Multiple other witnesses at the trial claimed she did so for a half hour and that she was a direct participant in the events. The jury obviously did not believe her. Also, she denied that she had handed out any fliers, was contradicted by a local reporter who said she had handed one to him, called that reporter a liar, and (at trial, once under oath) later admitted that he was telling the truth that she had handed him a flier knowing him to be a reporter.

7. The college immediately joined in the affair by terminating its long-term contract with Gibson's. A couple of months later, it reinstated that contract. Then, when the Gibson family filed suit, it terminated the contract permanently.

8. The college took the position that the matter would be dropped if Gibson's dropped the shoplifting charge and if it committed in the future to bring all incidents involving students directly to the college before it got the police involved. Gibson's refused to comply with this condition.

9. Gibson's in turn offered to forego any and all legal claims if the college sent out a mass communication stating that Gibson's had not engaged in racist activity and had no history of being racist. The college declined to do this.

10. Gibson's took a huge financial hit as a result of all this, barely managing to stay in business. It had to lay off all of its 12 employees and the family owners continued to operate the business without salary for 2 years.

11. Gibson's sued the college and its dean of students alleging libel, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and interference with business relations.

12. Throughout the trial, the college took the position that it had done nothing wrong, was only protecting the students' right to free speech, and had no responsibility for what happened. It also took the position that Gibson's was worth no more than $35,000 in total value as a business and that such amount should be the maximum awarded in any damages award.

13. The jury award $11.2 million in compensatory damages, $33 million in punitive damages, and also said that Oberlin had to pay Gibson's attorneys' fees. Under state law, there is a 2x cap on punitive damages (2x times the amount of compensatory damages awarded) and thus the punitive award will be set at $22 million. The judge is still determining the attorneys' fees question. All in all, though, the jury basically slammed Oberlin to the max and also awarded major damages against the dean of students.

14. Oberlin sent a mass email to its alumni association essentially saying that the jury disregarded the clear evidence showing it had done nothing wrong and vowing to fight this through appeal. It also formally announced that it will be filing an appeal.

15. Oberlin has had a long-time "townie" vs. "gownie" culture but this far transcends the small tensions that have historically existed.

William Jacobsen at Legal Insurrection has been on this case in great depth from inception, believing it is a case of major significance concerning college activism run amok. Here is a link to his reporting on the original verdict that contains a ton of links to the prior coverage:

The article here is by Jonathan Turley, a distinguished liberal law scholar, who is pretty critical of Oberlin's handling of the case, as I think most people are."

Posted on 2019-06-15T23:36:18+0000