ELYRIA, OHIO: On Thursday, June 13, a Lorain County jury sent a clear message in the case of Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College – truth still matters.
After an intense trial that lasted nearly six weeks, the 134-year-old family bakery was awarded $33.2 million in punitive damages in addition to $11 million in compensatory damages. The combined $44.2 million total verdict is the largest in Ohio’s history for any libel or slander case.
The record-setting judgement has attracted national attention, gracing the pages of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, among many others. But it’s the story of the Gibson family, and their undying fight to preserve a reputation and legacy, that deserves recognition.
In November 2016, three black Oberlin College students were arrested following a shoplifting incident at Gibson’s Bakery. The next day, protesters descended on the small family-owned store claiming the arrests were a result of racial profiling. In a protest comprised of Oberlin students, with evidence of involvement by faculty and administrators, the Gibsons were publicly shamed as racists with a longstanding history of discrimination. And a boycott was called for Gibson’s Bakery.
The jury heard evidence of college officials actively supporting the students during the protests and helping to promote the demonstrations by using college funds to purchase food and gloves for protesters.
However, as the days and weeks went on, the facts of the incident did not support the protesters’ claims. The shoplifting students pled guilty to their crimes and admitted the arrests were not racially motivated.
But the damage had already been done. The Gibsons’ reputation was destroyed. The bakery was suffering financial loss. And Oberlin College, which suspended its century-old business relationship with the bakery, refused any apology to the family.
Running out of options, the Gibsons decided to pursue a lawsuit against the school. They contacted Canton-based Krugliak, Wilkins, Griffiths & Dougherty Co., L.P.A., who immediately enlisted the help of Tzangas Plakas Mannos, Ltd. (TPM) and its managing partner, Lee E. Plakas. Together the two firms would take the case to trial, with Mr. Plakas serving as lead counsel, TPM attorneys Brandon W. McHugh and Jeananne M. Ayoub serving as trial counsel, and TPM paralegal Beth Burns working as chief trial paralegal.
Since its founding in 1957, TPM has built a reputation for providing the highest level of expert counsel and aggressive representation. The firm’s unparalleled courtroom experience helped weave the facts underlying the Gibson family’s hardship into a compelling case proving Oberlin College’s libel and infliction of emotional distress the jury could not deny.
After investing thousands of hours into building its case, two primary themes helped TPM underscore the libel case against Oberlin College:
- Truth Still Matters
Recklessly aimed words can be as destructive as recklessly aimed bullets. And there is no way to treat or repair reputational damage. When the truth no longer matters, what happened to the Gibsons could happen to anyone.
- This is a college, not a nursery school
Appropriate education and guidance of our nation’s youth is critically important, but there must be an adult in the room. Colleges must be educators, not appeasers and facilitators. And it’s not the role of colleges to orchestrate, support, participate and facilitate protests and defamatory activities.
The decision was decidedly in favor of TPM’s clients. As evidenced by the magnitude of the verdict, the jury sent a clear message – not just to Oberlin College, but to colleges and universities across the country. And now the Gibson family can get back to rebuilding their family business, knowing their name has been cleared in both the court of law and the court of public opinion.
TPM is proud to stand with the Gibson family and fight for justice on their behalf.
CONTACT: Lee E. Plakas, Managing Partner Attorney – Canton (330) 455-6112; Brandon W. McHugh, Attorney – Canton (330) 455-6112; Jeananne M. Ayoub, Attorney – Canton (330) 455-6112