The $33 million in damages awarded by an Ohio jury against Oberlin college for their campaign of slander and defamation against Gibson’s Bakery, a local small business, is a watershed moment for higher education in the U.S. It may represent the zenith for the reign of political correctness and identity politics that has run amok, unchallenged, on college campuses for the past twenty years.
Here is a very brief synopsis of the facts of the case. Gibson’s Bakery is a small , family-owned business that has been a fixture in the town of Oberlin since the 1890’s. The bakery was accused by students in engaging in racial profiling in connection with the arrest of two black students for shoplifting.
The college, through its administrators and faculty, aided and abetted the students in their ensuing campaign of wrongly stigmatizing Gibson’s Bakery of racial profiling; indeed, part of the baseless allegations was that the store had a long history of racial profiling, when there was no basis in fact for this defamatory statement.
It is important to note that the the two students would later plead guilty to shoplifting and both students issued an unequivocal statement that there was no racial profiling or racial animus on the part of Gibson’s Bakery surrounding the incident. These exculpatory facts were of no consequence tot the faculty and administrators steeped in identity politics fanaticism, who vowed to continue with their reckless and baseless assault, doing their best to cause the reputation of the owners to fall into disrepute. Undoubtedly, this was a fact that had enormous legal significance for the jury.
One administrator, Dean of Students, Meredith Raimondo, was a particularly odious character in the entire sordid drama. Raimondo, actively participated in the concerted attempt to slander the bakery as racist, handing out leaflets in front of the store that claimed the owners had a long history of racial profiling. Oberlin cancelled its long-standing contract with the bakery and Raimondo also pressured Bon Apetit, a major contractor with the college, to stop doing business with Gibson’s. The boycott caused the bakery to lay off most of its employees and drove the small business to the verge of bankruptcy.
The jury’s award was comprised of $11 million in compensatory damages and a whopping $22 million in punitive damages — the maximum allowable under Ohio law. It sends a powerful and unmistakable message to other institutions of higher education that have encouraged identity politics dogma to run wild.
Punitive damages are rarely award in civil cases because of the extreme nature of the remedy and its deleterious impact on a defendant. Successful plaintiffs are rarely awarded more than the dollar amount of compensatory damages caused by the wrongful conduct of a defendant.
By law, punitive damages can only be awarded in those cases where the deplorable conduct of a defendant was so extreme and outrageous so as to shock the conscience. When warranted, juries utilize the extraordinary remedy of double or trebling ordinary damages when they want to send an unmistakable message to a defendant that its conduct was so egregious, that it deserved a rebuke by way of levying exemplary damages. The jury, clearly found the malicious conduct of Oberlin College beyond the pale. The lingering issue? Will the college learn anything from the eye-popping smackdown they received from the local jury?
The jury’s award now clears the way for timid Republicans and other reticent Old Guard conservatives to criticize the corrosive rot that has turned higher education institutions in the country into little more than re-education camps.
I agree with the observation of David French of National Review, who argues that the award will emboldened other targets of progressive vituperation to seek redress for being unfairly and malevolently characterized as racist.
Perhaps now, progressive provocateurs in the media, will be more circumspect about leveling, with cavalier disregard, the racist charge against those who don’t subscribe to the catechism of identity politics. Racist is a particular incendiary term with odious connotations that can be characterized as slanderous and defamatory when there is no basis in fact for making the allegation. A perfect example is the cavalcade of vituperation and racist allegations — subsequently proved to be unfounded — heaped on the students of Covington High School for their innocuous behavior on the Washington Mall.
The therapeutic and cleansing effect of the Oberlin jury award, hopefully will deter such slanderous accusations in the future and in the absence of such restraint, those media mavens who continue to make baseless accusations, will have to suffer the consequences.