ELYRIA — Meredith Raimondo told David Gibson that she sent people door-to-door in Oberlin to ask community members if they believed the Gibson family was racist. When the survey was complete, not a single person came back with a report of any racism shown by the family, Gibson testified Tuesday.
She then told him: “We’re just going to put this behind us,” Gibson said.
Gibson said he then asked Raimondo, vice president and dean of students at Oberlin College, and Ferdinand Protzman, chief of staff at the college, during a meeting if the college would issue a written statement about those findings to clear the reputation of his family’s bakery business.
“Without the college fixing this, this is going to go on forever,” Gibson said he told them. “It’s now on the internet. It’s now public. It needed to be taken care of. We have no chance to fix it ourselves. They’re the ones that created this issue. They needed to step up and do the right thing.”
Gibson said his request “was just ignored” by Raimondo and Protzman.
That refusal led Gibson’s to sue, and he took the stand during the ninth day of trial. Gibson’s sued the college and Raimondo for libel, interference with business relationships, interference with contracts, intentional infliction of emotional distress and trespass in 2017. The bakery also is suing the college for negligent hiring, retention and supervision.
The rift between the bakery and the college began in 2016 when a student tried to buy alcohol with a fake ID and shoplift from Allyn D. Gibson, who is the son of the bakery’s owner, David Gibson. Allyn D. Gibson followed the student out of the store, and the two got into a physical altercation.
Two other students got involved, and police have said when they arrived the three students were hitting Allyn D. Gibson while he was on the ground.
Allyn D. Gibson is white and the students are black, and the incident escalated. All three students pleaded guilty in August to misdemeanor charges and read statements into the record acknowledging that Allyn D. Gibson was within his right to detain the shoplifter and that his actions were not racially motivated.
In the two days following the shoplifting incident, Oberlin College students protested in front of the bakery and passed out flyers urging people to boycott the bakery because of the bakery’s history of racial profiling. Oberlin College stopped ordering from the bakery for 28 days after the protests before resuming in January 2017.
The college once again ceased ordering from Gibson’s after the lawsuit was filed in November 2017.
During his testimony, David Gibson said the flyer passed out by students showed they were “coming directly for our business” and they were “trying to destroy” it. It was the alleged involvement of college administrators, though, that really hit hard, he said.
“The students protesting is one thing, but when the college becomes engaged and essentially orchestrates the protests and takes over the entire process, I’m amazed that they would have done that to us with the long history that we have,” David Gibson said. “…I could not believe that the college would accuse us of such a thing — from a family that has had a history of standing up for the rights of all individuals and from a family that has worked with Oberlin College through history, since we started.”
Testimony in the trial has said the bakery and college had a business relationship that started before World War I.
David Gibson said the aftermath of the protests has “devastated” the bakery’s business, forcing cutbacks in staffing.
Prior to the protests, the bakery employed 10 to 12 employees, six to seven of whom were full time, David Gibson said. The bakery now employs six to seven employees, only one of whom is full time.
David Gibson and his father, Allyn W. Gibson, who own the bakery, have not collected a salary since the protests occurred, according to tax statements. David Gibson testified that several members of his extended family are working without pay in order to keep the bakery afloat.
He said his brother, who lives in Canton, works 40 to 60 hours a week at the bakery without pay. David Gibson said his wife, son and grandson also work in the business without pay.
Lee Plakas, the lead attorney for Gibson’s Bakery, asked David Gibson why he keeps going.
“Why don’t you just give up? Why don’t you just give Oberlin College what they want?” Plakas said. “Why go through this? Why can’t you just give up and call it a day?”
“First of all, we’ve fought this hard and the family kept the business running and we’ve kept our name strong,” David Gibson said. “I’m not going to give it up to something like this. We’ve had things happen to us in the past that, for whatever reason, we worked through it and made sure the business keeps running.
“I’m going to make sure this business keeps running. Without keeping this business running, if we were to close right now, that would say there may be something to this racism (allegation), in my mind. I’m not going to let that happen.”
Testimony in the trial will resume 9 a.m. Thursday, after an off day today.
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