Gibson’s Files Lawsuit Against College, Raimondo

David and Allyn Gibson, the father and son co-owners of Gibson’s Bakery in downtown Oberlin, filed a lawsuit against Oberlin College and Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo in the Lorain County Common Pleas Court on Tuesday. The lawsuit stems from a series of protests and boycotts directed at Gibson’s after an alleged incident of racial profiling and student shoplifting.

The Gibsons allege eight counts against the defendants, including accusations of libel, intentional infliction of emotional distress, engaging in deceptive trade practices, tortious interference with contract, and other accusations that resulted in “severe and permanent economic damage as well as substantial distress,” according to court filings. Each of the counts carries a minimum penalty of $25,000, not including interest, attorneys’ fees, court fees, and any additional costs.

The 32-page lawsuit includes accusations of wrongdoing involving students, administrators, student senators, professors, and other College community members.

The first and second counts allege that the College, Raimondo, and other unnamed parties intentionally engaged in libel and slander to defame Gibson’s by “promulgating fake news” as part of their “longstanding agenda against the Plaintiffs.” They state that this resulted in “the loss of business earnings, injury to their personal and business reputations, and mental anguish and humiliation.”

The suit also alleges that Raimondo improperly interfered with a business contract between two outside parties in instructing former Bon Appétit Manager Michele Gross to cease buying from Gibson’s, a claim that Raimondo denies.

The Gibsons also directly attack Raimondo in the suit, stating that she and other unnamed administrators were “not competent to perform their duties” and calling the College negligent in hiring, supervising, and retaining such employees.

The College and Raimondo rejected all claims made in the lawsuit. Raimondo will be defended by the College’s as yet unnamed legal counsel.

“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,” wrote Director of Media Relations Scott Wargo in an email to the Review. “The allegations are untrue and we will vigorously defend against them.”

Interim Vice President of Finance Alan Norton announced the suit through an email to faculty and staff yesterday morning, which the Office of Communications forwarded to students yesterday afternoon.

In the wake of the suit, the College announced it will be cutting off all business with Gibson’s, effective today.

“We are saddened that the Gibson family has chosen to pursue litigation,” Wargo wrote. “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.”

Student organizations have also responded individually to the Gibsons’ lawsuit. ABUSUA released a statement yesterday announcing they will boycott Gibson’s to support Black students on campus.

“The ABUSUA board is expressing our constitutional right to protest in the form of a boycott,” the statement said. “It is our unanimous decision as a board to not utilize ABUSUA funds to support Gibson’s Bakery. We are choosing to refrain from taking any action other than this statement. The board is choosing to focus our energy on supporting the Africana community on campus. ABUSUA is unwavering and unapologetic in our decision and our support of Black life.”

The suit was filed almost one year to the day after an incident involving a conflict between Allyn Gibson and three students last November, all of whom are Black.

College junior Elijah Aladin was accused of shoplifting two bottles of wine from Gibson’s, leading to a physical altercation between Aladin, Allyn, and College juniors Endia Lawrence and Cecelia Whettstone in Tappan Square Nov. 9, 2016.

Aladin was charged with second-degree robbery, and Whettstone and Lawrence were both charged with misdemeanors. Many students, professors, and community members said that this was a misunderstanding rooted in racism, asserting that Gibson’s has a long history of racial profiling.

The day after the incident, students organized a protest outside Gibson’s that lasted more than 12 hours and garnered significant media attention. The protest drew criticism from some local businesses and community members, including a group of counter-protesters who gathered to support the bakery the weekend after the initial protest.

Protestors also distributed flyers asking people to boycott Gibson’s. The lawsuit claims that the College and Raimondo were involved in distributing the flyers, which are reproduced in court documents.

Aladin, Lawrence, and Whettstone’s cases were not resolved until August, after all three had plead guilty to misdemeanors and read a statement releasing Gibson’s of any wrongdoing or racism. The students were also placed on one year of probation.

Allyn and David Gibson are represented by Owen J. Rarric, Terry A. Moore, Matthew W. Onest, and Lee E. Plankas, all based in Canton, Ohio.

Allyn and David declined to comment directly, though Rarric wrote in a statement to the Review that the lawsuit is a result of the College’s financial aggression against the bakery.

“The complaint filed this week identifies Oberlin College’s troubling conduct in attempting to bully and financially strangle a century-old local business for refusing to succumb to the College’s demand that Gibson’s ignore student shoplifting,” Rarric wrote. “In response to Gibson’s resisting such bullying tactics, the College has further tightened the economic squeeze by cancelling business with Gibson’s. … The example that Oberlin College is setting is that if an institution is powerful, that institution and its members do not have to follow the Rule of Law,” he added.

Student Senator and College junior Meg Parker said that Senate is standing with community members affected by the suit.

“The safety and success of students remain our utmost priority,” Parker said. “The interests of all students always comes first for us.”

Editor’s Note: The full text of the suit can be read below.

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