OBERLIN — Gibson’s Bakery has filed a lawsuit against Oberlin College, prompting the college to once again sever business ties with the downtown bakery.
The lawsuit lays out a narrative in which Oberlin College — trying to recover its image of being supportive of the African-American community after firing a professor who is black, and with business interests in wanting to buy the Gibson property and adjacent parking lot — latched on to a shoplifting incident to promote Gibson’s as a racist establishment to bolster its own image and interests.
It was filed Tuesday in Lorain County Common Pleas Court and names the college and Meredith Raimondo, vice president and dean of students, as defendants.
The complaint accuses the college of libel, slander, interference with business relationships, interference with contracts, deceptive trade practices, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring and trespass and asks for more than $200,000 in damages.
In a statement from the college, the college and Raimondo “deny and reject” all claims in the complaint and said the allegations “are untrue and we will vigorously defend against them.”
“The college values its long relationship with the town of Oberlin and its businesses, including Gibson’s bakery,” the statement reads. “We are saddened that the Gibson family has chosen to pursue litigation. As this is now a legal matter, the college will suspend, effective immediately, its business relationship with Gibson’s Bakery until such time as a mutually productive relationship may be re-established.”
Full statement from Oberlin College
Oberlin College and Dr. Raimondo deny and reject all claims asserted in the lawsuit filed by Gibson Bros., Inc. in the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas. The allegations are untrue and we will vigorously defend against them.
The College values its long relationship with the town of Oberlin and its businesses, including Gibson's Bakery. We are saddened that the Gibson family has chosen to pursue litigation. As this is now a legal matter, the College will suspend, effective immediately, its business relationships with Gibson's Bakery until such time as a mutually productive relationship may be re-established.
We will have no further public comment on this matter.
The lawsuit details when the college in November 2016 fired Joy Karega, an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition, for posting what the college considered to be anti-Semitic rhetoric.
In defense of Karega, students sent a 14-page list of demands, the complaint states, with one of those being that Karega, who is black, get “guaranteed tenure.”
Raimondo, who was special assistant to the president for diversity, equity and inclusion, was brought on to be vice president and dean of students “in an effort (for the college) to better market itself as a strong advocate for and a strong supporter of African-American students and racial minorities,” the complaint states.
The firing of Karega and response from students, the complaint states, served as a backdrop for the incident on Nov. 9, 2016, wherein three college students who are black — Jonathan Aladin, Endia Lawrence and Cecelia Whettstone — were arrested after Aladin attempted to buy wine with a fake ID while also concealing two bottles of wine under his shirt.
When Allyn Gibson, who is white, confronted Aladin about the fake identification and attempted theft, Aladin ran out of the bakery, dropping the bottles of wine. Allyn Gibson pursued Aladin out of the store, and when police arrived, Allyn Gibson was on the ground with all three students punching and kicking him.
Days of protests followed the arrests, with chants and flyers spread around the community calling Gibson’s “a racial establishment with a long account of racial profiling and discrimination.”
Flyers were hung in college halls and urged students and staff to take business elsewhere.
The lawsuit alleges Raimondo and other college professors were present and took part in the protests and the dissemination of flyers as well.
In response to the accusations of racism, Oberlin police conducted an investigation into arrests at Gibson’s and found “a complete lack of evidence of racism,” the complaint states. In a five-year period, according to police, 40 adults were arrested for shoplifting and only six were African-American.
“The defendants consciously ignored the facts and findings of the Oberlin Police Department because such ignorance allowed them to continue their agenda against Gibson’s bakery and the Gibsons,” the complaint states.
According to the complaint, this agenda also includes wanting to buy the Gibson’s building and the adjacent parking lot, owned by Allyn Gibson’s father, David Gibson.
The complaint states the college encouraged staff and outside contractors to park in the lot, knowing it was meant to serve customers of surrounding business, including Gibson’s Bakery.
Following the protests, Oberlin College canceled its long-standing order with Gibson’s Bakery. At that time, David Gibson met with then-President Marvin Krislov and Tita Reed, assistant to the president of Oberlin College, during which time the college asked Gibson’s not to push criminal charges against first-time shoplifters, according to the complaint.
The Gibson family, according to the lawsuit, said that would be “unworkable and unacceptable” and would only exacerbate the problem.
“Gibson’s loses thousands of dollars a year due to stolen merchandise and such losses would certainly multiply if students learned they could steal without repercussion,” the lawsuit states. “David Gibson believes the policy would be inconsistent with his core belief that an educational institution of higher learning should be teaching its students not to commit robbery and theft, instead of sheltering and excusing that criminal activity.”
In August, Aladin, Lawrence and Whettstone pleaded guilty to amended misdemeanor charges in county Common Pleas Court. The deal called for them to receive no jail time and to pay restitution. Included in the deal was an admission by the three students that Allyn Gibson was within his right to detain Aladin and that his actions were not racially motivated.
Gibson’s said in the lawsuit that the statement and guilty pleas did not stop the college from continuing to allege racial profiling.
The complaint states that Gibson’s Bakery employees have been threatened and have had their tires punctured, the Gibsons’ homes have been damaged and students who shop at the bakery have been threatened.
“The overall campus environment has resulted in a substantially reduced patronage by students, professors, administrators and other college constituents, as well as created a chilling effect upon persons that would normally support and patronize Gibson’s Bakery,” the complaint states.
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