Long story short some black students were arrested for shoplifting at Gibson’s Bakery. SJW staff and students from neighboring Oberlin College (including a Dean), claimed Gibson’s was racist. Gibson’s claimed their accusations were false and harmed their business. A jury just awarded the Bakery $11.2 million in damages.
The impact of this ruling is massive. Prof. William Jacobson and Legal Insurrection have covered it from open to shut, so I’ll let you read his thoughts after the jury verdict.
The verdict sends a strong message that colleges and universities cannot simply wind up and set loose student social justice warriors and then wash their hands of the consequences. In this case, a wholly innocent 5th-generation bakery was falsely accused of being racist and having a history racial profiling after stopping three black Oberlin College students from shoplifting. The students eventually pleaded guilty, but not before large protests and boycotts intended to destroy the bakery and defame the owners. The jury appears to have accepted that Oberlin College facilitated the wrongful conduct against the bakery.
An institution dedicated to cranking out grievance mongers has been slapped with an 11 million dollar bill for (basically) aiding and abetting defamation (libel, intentional interference with business, and intentional infliction of emotional distress). Deliberately and with intent, it seems.
And while it sounds fabulous to see a little accountability, especially at a ‘quick whee’s the fainting couch’ fake hate school like Oberlin, it will likely get worse. On Tuesday there is a punitive damage hearing that could cost Oberlin an additional 22 million.
What about free speech?
Weren’t these students and faculty just exercising free speech?
Well, as you all know, it has a few limits. One of which is lying about how a private business is run by racists with the intent to destroy that business. Gibson’s was not nor never has been a public person or politician. The standards for malice are much lower. Evidence presented demonstrated that the accusation of racism was unfounded and that these caused actual harm to the business and its owners.
That hasn’t stopped Oberlin from speaking. The school published an email to alumni after the first verdict that will probably ensure they get slapped with another 22 million dollar judgment. In the email, they criticize the jurors. Not to mention some other statements that were just out there.
Substantively, the email is infuriating to anyone who has followed the case. Oberlin College and Raimondo were not “held liable for the independent actions of their students.” Rather, the defendants were held liable for their own conduct in aiding and abetting the publication of libelous documents, interference with business, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Let me repeat, it was the college’s and Raimondo’s own conduct that was at issue before the jury. That the General Counsel of Oberlin College doesn’t understand that — even if she disagrees with the jury conclusion — tells me something went very wrong with the way this case was handled internally at Oberlin College.
I don’t think Oberlin ever took any of this seriously. Internally, it was probably viewed as a nuisance of which they would soon be free. So much so that their own general counsel didn’t even appear to understand the case. And now it could cost them 33 million dollars. And their insurance company probably will not cover it.
The Lexington policy does not provide coverage for “bodily injury” or “property damage” intentionally caused by defendants. While the Lexington policy potentially provides coverage in relation to “personal and advertising injury,” defined to include defamation and/or disparagement in certain circumstances, the Lexington policy excludes any such coverage if “personal and advertising injury” is caused “with the knowledge that the act would violate the rights of another … ,” or if the insured published material it knew to be false.
It couldn’t have happened to a whinier pile of snowflakes.
Image: Legal Insurrection