The Oberlin Review

Gibson’s Files Lawsuit Against College, Raimondo

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Gibson’s Files Lawsuit Against College, Raimondo

Photo by Bryan Rubin, Photo Editor

Photo by Bryan Rubin, Photo Editor

Photo by Bryan Rubin, Photo Editor

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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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13 Responses to “Gibson’s Files Lawsuit Against College, Raimondo”

  1. Steven Kennedy on November 10th, 2017 9:05 PM

    You were wrong to boycott in the first place. Now you are doubling down on your immoral and irresponsible conduct. How arrogant you jerks are at Oberlin.

  2. JustA Student on November 11th, 2017 4:40 PM

    Mate, you expect a college like Oberlin to just lie down and accept a lawsuit of this caliber without a fight? LOL!

  3. Daniel Monti on November 12th, 2017 5:55 AM

    There’s no question that this unfortunate dispute could have been resolved long before now through means falling well short of a boycott and lawsuit. It still could, if the College’s caretakers wanted to make that happen. In the meantime and until such time as cooler heads prevail, I would ask that the adults in the room consider what the College stands to lose no matter what the legal outcome is. The optics of this situation are just awful. The biggest kid on the block smacks down a little guy. Wow! Who could have seen that coming? More importantly, perhaps, the lessons students take away from this regrettable episode might not serve them well in the future or be celebrated at wherever college administrators go these days to pat each other on the back. Notable among them being that power brings more privileges than it does obligations and that an institution of higher learning is a sanctuary rather than a haven.

    Daniel Monti ’71

  4. James Henderson on November 11th, 2017 6:26 PM

    As a former resident I find this whole affair unfortunate to say the least. But what I find particularly curious is the release of actual numbers of shoplifters prosecuted which was part of both the Journal and Chronicle’s coverage, but lacking from this particular story. One particularly salient point:

    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.
    Jodi Weinberger
    By Jodi Weinberger | The Chronicle-Telegram

    Oberlin was a wonderful place to grow up and I have many friends who chose to attend OC for some very good reasons. The College enriched the town, and I like to think that the town did the same for the college.

    But something has been bubbling under the surface for a long time. An increasingly fractious relationship between town and gown. And sitting from a distance (both miles and years) it seems that the College has perhaps not really been willing to look at the facts of this particular case, and moreover has actively avoided taking any responsibility in what is now a full-blown conflict. And it is disheartening to see that although the case has been litigated, the college has made no effort to acknowledge that it is indeed possible that a few students might have been in the wrong.

    Oberlin was a great community owing to a reasonably harmonious coexistence between the school and the people living here. But as a person growing up in town, I can also say that the College cast a very large shadow, and if I am very honest, it seems that the College (or at least its leadership) feels that the town of Oberlin itself is a fiefdom for the college. I sincerely hope that the town and the College can somehow mend the fences, but it will take the College coming down to earth and meeting the town as an equal.

    I am reminded of a line from Breaking Away, a film about college kids vs. townies, and I think it is appropriate here.

    Many of you will only spend four years here, but for a lot of other people, Oberlin is their permanent home. It is unfortunate that things have reached this tipping point., but the former President and the administration of the college have dug their heels in and are flat out refusing to meet the Gibsons, and to some extent the town halfway. I would only ask that everyone consider what touched all of this off – one young man made a very poor choice in trying to steal from a local business. And it is safe to say that for both sides embroiled in this dispute, it all went pear shape from there.

    As a mediator, I get called in on some pretty tempestuous conflicts. Ones that have escalated beyond all reasonable sense. And one thing I have learned is that conflict doesn’t just happen. And another? Conflict can’t be resolved unless both parties are willing.

    I apologize for butting in, I respect that this is the College paper. But I would ask everyone to consider that maybe, just maybe this all could have turned out differently, and that maybe it is not too late.

  5. Cris Orengo on November 12th, 2017 9:43 AM

    “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes”….This is NOT about racism or profiling. This is is case of petty larceny by Oberlin College students who I have to trust must have had better ideas in their life than trying to shoplift alcohol from a store. Gibson’s has been dragged through the wringer for trying to protect their store and has had their reputation dragged through the proverbial mud. They are perfectly within their rights to protect that reputation with a civil suit. Those students were fortunate that all they got was probation. It could have turned out much worse for them.

  6. Robert M. Slugg '79 on November 12th, 2017 3:48 PM

    This has all the makings of a South Park episode. BTW, that is not a good thing. It is sad that no one at the college has had the insight or humility to take a big step back and say, “you know, we might be wrong here.” That was a pretty obvious move to me a year ago. And while I can understand the students acting that way out of youthful passion and rebellion, for the faculty and administration to join them is pretty inexcusable. At some point someone needs to draw the line at protesting just for the sake of protesting. I guess tomorrow’s lesson will be that there are consequences for actions. It’s all fun and games until someone loses the endowment.

  7. Killer Marmot on November 14th, 2017 3:04 AM

    The article glosses over what initiated all the hub-bub — namely that three students tried to shoplift at Gibson’s. In the business;’s attempt to protect its property, an employee was assaulted. Because two of the students were black, there were allegations of racism, demonstrations in front of the store, and calls to boycott it.

    Gibson’s is the one being bullied here. Good on them for standing up for their rights.

    And shame on Oberlin College and The Editorial Board, who have lost their ethical moorings,.

  8. Tom Witheridge on November 14th, 2017 5:50 PM

    This is so sad. I tried really hard to read the complaint from start to finish but could barely stand the first dozen pages. All of these issues will be resolved in great detail, at great expense to all parties — and great revenue to the attorneys and investigators on all sides — in the fullness of time. Or cooler heads will prevail, and the Gibson family will settle now. They can’t possibly hope to rebuild a profitable store in the bosom of the beloved institution they are attacking so fiercely in court.

    I had many good times at Gibson’s in the late 1960s, but I have only negative thoughts and feelings about that business now. They apparently deserve whatever is coming their way. It’s time for them to sell their property and whatever remains of their goodwill, cut their losses, and go elsewhere to get back on their feet. Across the street from Tappan Square isn’t their best possible location anymore, and it never will be.

    Given what I’ve just said, I hope they don’t try to add me to their list of “defamation” defendants. As I said, I went there often for good times in the late ‘60s, so you know I know how to resist; I won’t take it lying down. They will just be adding more bucks to their legal bill, and they will just be further in the hole at the end.

    Tom Witheridge ‘69

  9. Tom Witheridge on November 25th, 2017 8:35 PM

    P.S. to Gibson family members: You can’t force people to go into to your store. You have to make them want to be there. You could “win” a lawsuit against the College but end up with zero, or very few, College-related customers, even without anyone picketing outside. Maybe every non-College-related customer will continue to spend as much money as they are currently spending at your store. Maybe not. Is that a risk that you — and your suppliers and other creditors — really want to take? Imagine you owned the Coop in Cambridge Square and decided to sue Harvard. Would that be a good business move? Please reconsider your attack on the College. It doesn’t make sense!

  10. Mark Christensen on November 15th, 2017 1:25 PM

    Hard to know what Steven Kennedy’s bias is. He doesn’t say if all boycotts are “immoral and irresponsible”, or just this one. And it’s not clear how economic boycotts make the group boycotting “arrogant” and “jerks”.
    That said, I think it’s entirely appropriate for students to engage in collective action (else where or when will they learn?) but not the OC administration, if indeed the lawsuit’s allegations about Dean Raimondo are even 20% accurate.
    I suspect Mr. Kennedy just fell out of some social media trolling platform and can now return to his basement.
    MRC, OC class of 1970

  11. Steven Kennedy on November 17th, 2017 10:15 PM

    It is immoral and irresponsible to try to destroy a local business based on a charge of racism that, to any reasonable person, has been proved to be false. That seems pretty si ole to me.

  12. neal workman on November 16th, 2017 5:12 PM

    I hope Gibsons wins enough money to buy 10 Walmart stores-and the Gibson family lives happily ever after. Go Gibsons!!!!

  13. Mike Grasso on November 19th, 2017 9:26 AM

    Shame on Oberlin’s administration and it’s predominantly snowflake student body for being so presumptuous to act so foolishly and without clearheaded fair-minded thinking initially, one year ago.. Let’s cut through the chatter…In a democratic society, the rule of law applies. Certainly an accommodating conversation is part of that process. However, it’s often difficult to try and maintain an effort at such when one party is stealing from another and suddenly a herd/gang mentality erupts and any measure of accommodated conversation is lost.
    Oberlin will now get what it deserves. As the rule of law and democratic process prevailed with the three criminals admitting guilt… So too will truth be told. Commonsense dictates that the trade off for unreasonable, poorly substantiated , acting on impulse entitlement whining…. is a lawsuit.

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