A highly rated liberal arts institution in Ohio with a long tradition of providing educational opportunities for African Americans was hit with an $11.2 million penalty in the case of three Black students claiming to have been victims of racial profiling.
Oberlin College was dealt the setback after an Ohio jury sided with the students who were accused of stealing from a local bakery.
In 2016, the students were arrested for 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, and as a result, the arrests were met with protests from Oberlin students and faculty. Evidence presented at the trial also 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.
However, in 2017 the students pleaded guilty to the attempted theft and admitted that they were not racially profiled, and a court ruling found that the “college inflicted emotional distress, interfered with business relationships and libeled the family-owned bakery in downtown Oberlin.”
Oberlin was eventually ordered to pay damages to the bakery of at least $11.2 million. The penalty could increase after an upcoming hearing on punitive damages.
“Neither Oberlin College nor Dean Meredith Raimondo defamed a local business or its owners, and they never endorsed statements made by others,” Donica Varner, vice president, general counsel and secretary of Oberlin College, said in a statement. “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.”