Gibson’s Bakery Judgment Appeal

Scenic view of Tappan Square

Oberlin College Initiates Payment of Awarded Damages in Gibson’s Bakery case

September 8, 2022

Oberlin College and Conservatory has initiated payment in full of the $36.59 million judgment in the Gibson’s Bakery case and is awaiting payment information from the plaintiffs. This amount represents awarded damages and accumulated interest, and therefore no further payments are required.

On August 30, the Ohio Supreme Court issued its decision not to hear Oberlin's appeal. Oberlin’s Board of Trustees has decided not to pursue the matter further.

We are disappointed by the Court’s decision. However, this does not diminish our respect for the law and the integrity of our legal system.

This matter has been painful for everyone. We hope that the end of the litigation will begin the healing of our entire community.

We value our relationship with the City of Oberlin, and we look forward to continuing our support of and partnership with local businesses as we work together to help our city thrive.

Oberlin’s core mission is to provide our students with a distinctive and outstanding undergraduate education. The size of this verdict is significant. However, our careful financial planning, which includes insurance coverage, means that we can satisfy our legal obligation without impacting our academic and student experience. It is our belief that the way forward is to continue to support and strengthen the quality of education for our students now and into the future.


Statement of August 30, 2022

August 30, 2022

Oberlin is disappointed that the Ohio Supreme Court has chosen not to hear our appeal of the Gibson’s Bakery judgment against the college. The issues raised by this case have been challenging, not only for the parties involved, but for the entire Oberlin community. We remain committed to strengthening the partnership between the College, the City of Oberlin and its residents, and the downtown business community. We will continue in that important work while remaining focused on our core educational mission.


Appeal Filed with the Supreme Court of Ohio

June 1, 2022

On May 13, 2022, Oberlin College filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of Ohio in the case Gibson Bros., Inc., et al. v. Oberlin College, et al. Oberlin is pleased to have support from a number of organizations with a broad range of missions and perspectives, all of which have filed amicus briefs urging the court to accept review of Oberlin’s appeal. These organizations include the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, NAACP, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the National Coalition Against Censorship and Defending Rights & Dissent, and the Ohio Association of Civil Trial Attorneys.


Statement Regarding Court of Appeals Decision

March 31, 2022

Oberlin is obviously disappointed that the appeals court affirmed the judgment in its ruling earlier today. We are reviewing the Court’s opinion carefully as we evaluate our options and determine next steps.

In the meantime, we recognize that the issues raised by this case have been challenging, not only for the parties involved in the lawsuit, but for the entire Oberlin community. We remain committed to strengthening the partnership between the College, the City of Oberlin and its residents, and the downtown business community. We will continue in that important work while remaining focused on our core educational mission.


Oberlin Appeals Gibson’s Bakery Judgment

June 5, 2020

Attorneys representing Oberlin College today filed their principal brief appealing the judgment awarded to Gibson’s Bakery. The brief was filed in Ohio’s Ninth District Court of Appeals.

In its filing, the College argues that numerous errors occurred during trial that prevented the jury from hearing key facts surrounding the November 2016 incident involving three students and a member of the Gibson family, and the student protests following that incident. Those significant errors deprived Oberlin of a fair trial.

Oberlin requests that the judgment be reversed and entered in Oberlin’s favor based on well-established constitutional law protecting freedom of speech. The College also argues that it was wrongly held responsible for the opinions students expressed as part of their protests. As set forth in Oberlin’s brief, it cannot be held liable for failing to censor the speech of its students.

In addition, Oberlin explains in its brief that the trial court prevented the jury from hearing critical evidence on significant issues, resulting in a one-sided presentation of the evidence and making it virtually inevitable that the jury would rule against Oberlin.

Finally, Oberlin argues that the trial court erred by allowing the jury to award punitive damages when well-established constitutional law required otherwise, by misapplying the Ohio damages caps, and by awarding attorney fees in violation of Ohio Supreme Court precedent.

Oberlin pursued this appeal because it was deprived of a fair trial and to vindicate core constitutional protections for freedom of speech. Colleges and universities must allow students and faculty to speak freely – even when their speech is controversial, and even when administrators disagree with it – as an important part of the free exchange of ideas that is the heart of any academic institution.

This entire chapter has taken an unfortunate toll on Oberlin College and the surrounding community. It is our hope that the appeal will affirm fundamental constitutional rights while fostering the continued growth of the college’s partnership with the local business community.

Additional Court filings are expected during the next two months. Following the close of briefing, the appeals court may hear oral arguments before issuing its ruling.


National Organizations and First Amendment Scholars Submit Briefs in Support of Oberlin’s Appeal of Gibson’s Bakery Judgment

June 8, 2020

Oberlin College is pleased to have received the support of numerous groups and scholars around the country who collectively submitted four amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs with an Ohio appeals court urging that the Gibson’s Bakery judgment against the College be reversed. The briefs were submitted to Ohio’s Ninth District Court of Appeals. They include:

  • A brief (scholars) submitted on behalf of more than two dozen nationally recognized First Amendment scholars (see list of scholars here), explaining that the rules applied in this case are inconsistent with the law in many critical respects;
  • A brief (civil liberties organizations) submitted on behalf of various civil liberties organizations, led by the National Coalition Against Censorship (see list of civil liberties organizations here), expressing concern that the Court rulings in this case will lead to future censorship of a wide range of speech on college and university campuses across the political spectrum;
  • A brief (NAACP) submitted by the NAACP, explaining that the students’ statements were expressions of opinion made in the context of a call for a boycott, and that peaceful protests of this kind are historically protected ways of achieving social change in America; and
  • A brief (media organizations) submitted on behalf of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Freedom to Read Foundation, the American Booksellers Association, and 19 additional media organizations (see list of media organizations here), explaining that the trial court rulings resulting in the judgment interfere with key protections allowing the news media, libraries, bookstores, and other institutions to distribute commentary on matters of public concern, without facing massive court judgments.

Additional filings are expected during the next two months, following which the appeals court may hear oral arguments before issuing its ruling.