Litigation Update

Two lawsuits with Oberlin College as a named defendant — the 2019 Gibson’s Bakery suit and a 2020 hiring discrimination suit filed by former Dance professor Alice Blumenfeld — have progressed this month.

Gibson’s Bakery

On March 31, the 9th District Court of Appeals in Akron rejected both the College’s and the Gibsons’ appeals, unanimously upholding Lorain County Common Pleas Judge John Miraldi’s rulings and the $32 million damage award. The College has until May 15 to decide whether it will accept the verdict, attempt to settle with the Gibsons, or appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court. The College’s lawyers have not yet announced what decision they will make. 

“Oberlin is obviously disappointed that the appeals court affirmed the judgment in its ruling earlier today,” reads Oberlin’s March 31 statement. “We are reviewing the Court’s opinion carefully as we evaluate our options and determine next steps.”

The College appealed on three grounds. First, the College argued that students’ protest flyers were statements of opinion protected by the Ohio Constitution and the First Amendment. Second, the College said it was unfairly barred from presenting important evidence at trial. Finally, the College argued that the court misapplied Ohio damages caps, and that the Gibsons were awarded damages based on speculative evidence. 

Due to a state law capping awards in tort lawsuits, the punitive damages were reduced to $25 million. In their cross-appeal brief, the Gibsons argue that the court should restore the original $33 million punitive award. Both the Gibsons’ and Oberlin’s appeals were rejected. 

“Oberlin’s assignments of error are overruled,” reads the decision written by Justice Donna Carr. “The Gibsons’ sole assignment of error in their cross-appeal is overruled. The judgment of the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas is affirmed.” 

Former Dance Professor Alice Blumenfeld 

The College has reached a settlement in the case brought in September 2020 by former Dance professor Alice Blumenfeld, who alleged hiring discrimination.

Blumenfeld filed the suit in 2020 after she had spent time at Oberlin as a visiting assistant professor and then applied to a tenure-track position. Blumenfeld claims she was discriminated against in part because of a conversation she had with Professor Ann Cooper Albright, chair of the Dance department and then-chair of the search committee to fill the tenure-track position. The complaint claims that Cooper Albright invited Blumenfeld to her home and suggested that Blumenfeld start looking for a new position, telling her, “We can’t just hire another white woman from the Midwest with a husband.” 

According to online court records, the case was settled at the end of January in Judge Mark Betleski’s courtroom, before the trial was set to begin on Feb. 2. The terms of the settlement are not public, and the College does not have a comment on the suit.