Oberlin Hit With $11 Million Verdict For Role In Defaming Local Bakery

Two years ago, I wrote a column about a controversy involving Oberlin College and allegations of racism leveled against the family-owned Gibson’s Bakery. The bakery appears unfairly attacked for an incident involving African-American students — an incident that the college proceeded to address without any semblance of objectively or fairness toward the long-standing local bakery. I said that the time that the bakery had ample reason to sue. Well, now an Ohio jury has hit Oberlin College with crushing damages of an $11.2 million. What is most disturbing is the failure of any action taken against the college president and other officials who not only allowed these abuses to occur but then took a remarkably bad case to court at a loss in millions in damages and fees. The cost of poor judgment shown by college officials in this controversy is magnified by bad case law that it creates potentially for free speech. And the jury has not even convened yet to consider punitive damages.

As we discussed earlier, Gibson’s Bakery alleged in the complaint below that school officials encouraged a boycott over false accusations of racism after three Oberlin students were arrested at the business for shoplifting.  What is curious is that the students pleaded guilty to the charges and the Oberlin police found no evidence of racism. Yet, the bakery is still be accused of racial profiling and running a “racist establishment.”

The controversy began in November 2016 when three black Oberlin students — Jonathan Aladin, Endia Lawrence and Cecelia Whettstone — were caught stealing wine.  In August, the students admitted their guilt and also agreed that the store had not engaged in racist conduct in their arrest.  Moreover, the students reportedly punched and kicked the shopkeeper. They initially claimed to have been racially profiled and that they only crime was using fake ids.  However, Allyn Gibson said that he was attacked immediately after catching them with the stolen bottles of wine.  The students ultimately dropped the claims and admitted that their guilt.

Aladin-MUG-jpg
Whettstone-jpg
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The police  Incident Report online, adds disturbing details:

 

 

On Wednesday, November 9, 2016, at approximately 4:58pm, officers responded to the area of Gibson’s Bakery in reference to a report of a fight in progress. As officers were responding to the area, dispatch advised that this was involving an alleged theft complaint. Dispatch advised that Allyn Gibson, who is an employee of Gibson’s Bakery, was attempting to apprehend a subject who Allyn had witnessed attempt to steal several items. As officers approached the area, Sgt. Ortiz, and Officer Feuerstein both stated they observed Allyn Gibson lying on his back with several individuals kneeling over him punching and kicking him with several other individuals in the immediate area. Officers attempted to gain control of the situation and were met several times with resistance from several different individuals. After a few minutes officers were finally able to take one female into custody and calm the incident and attempt to figure out what had taken place.

Moreover, the Oberlin police conducted an investigation into arrests at Gibson’s and found “a complete lack of evidence of racism.” The police looked at arrested over a five-year period, and found 40 adults arrested for shoplifting but only six were African-American.

None of that seems to matter.

A boycott has been maintained against Gibson’s, which was the victim of a crime by Oberlin students.  There is a great deal in the complaint below that is deeply troubling in terms of the conduct of Oberlin faculty and students.

The lawsuit filed against Oberlin and Meredith Raimondo, vice president and dean of students, for slander. The complaint details how school faculty encouraged demonstrations and supported the protests with suspended classes and resources.  Raimondo allegedly appeared at the demonstrations with a bullhorn and distributed a flyer that said the bakery is a “RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION.”  The complaint also alleges that the school has warned visitors that Gibson’s is a racist establishment.

Notably, the complaint discusses the prior controversy over the firing of Joy Karega, an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition, after she posted anti-Semitic statements. We discussed that controversy. The complaint suggests that Raimondo was brought in to reinforce the school’s relationship to black students after the firing of Karego, who is African American.

There is also an interesting discussion of how the school canceled its long-standing order with the bakery and, when the owner met with then-President Marvin Krislov and Tita Reed, assistant to the president of Oberlin College. He alleges that the officials pressured him to drop any criminal charges against the students.

The complaint alleges 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.

Here is the complaint: Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College

Now the college must pay millions due to the reckless actions of both school officials and ultimately its counsel. Worse yet, the case could undermine free speech on campus. Much of the harm to the bakery was caused by massive protests at the college. Students and faculty seemed uninterested in the findings of the police or the views of the bakery. However, such protests are protected by free speech. The problem was the role of the college in fueling such protests. The complaint portrayed the university as an aider and abetter in such defamatory statements. This could create a serious threat to schools as vicariously liable for the exercise of free speech for its students — liability that could be used to justify no limited on free speech on campuses.

Donica Thomas Varner, the college’s vice president, general counsel and secretary, said the school would review the verdict. However, what she needs to address is the failure of the college to take responsibility for its earlier actions and then the ill-advised litigation of the case.

36 thoughts on “Oberlin Hit With $11 Million Verdict For Role In Defaming Local Bakery”

  1. Oberlin needs a taste of their own poison…protest against Oberlin College…wouldn’t that be ironic…don’t you think?

  2. WSJ

    Oberlin Pays for Smearing the Town Grocer
    https://www.wsj.com/articles/oberlin-pays-for-smearing-the-town-grocer-11560294176

    The college alleged student shoplifters were victims of racial profiling, but a jury wasn’t buying it.

    Ohio’s Oberlin College has achieved national notoriety for the zeal of its progressive activism. According to a 2016 story in the New Yorker, students have bombarded administrators with endless demands for accommodation, including abolishing midterms, banning grades below C, the addition of “trigger warnings” to classic literature and even an $8.20 hourly wage for engaging in activism. It isn’t surprising in this light that a hate-crime hoax, spurred by a shoplifting incident at a nearby business, was enough to put students in attack mode.

    On Nov. 9, 2016, an African-American male Oberlin student attempted to buy wine from Gibson’s Food Mart and Bakery using a fake ID. Allyn D. Gibson, a grandson of the shop’s owner, refused to sell the underage customer alcohol, then noticed the student had two bottles of wine concealed under his shirt.

    As Mr. Gibson called the police the student fled, dropping the bottles on the floor. A scuffle ensued when Mr. Gibson pursued him. Two African-American female Oberlin students, apparently accomplices of the suspect, joined in the physical confrontation. When police arrived on the scene, the three were beating Mr. Gibson on the ground.

    None of these facts were ever in dispute, even among the three suspects, who all pleaded guilty to an array of charges. The first suspect swore in his plea statement that Mr. Gibson “was within his legal rights” to detain him, and that he did not believe Gibson’s actions were racially motivated.

    On a different campus on a different day, it is unlikely a simple shoplifting case would have gained much attention. But the incident occurred the day after Donald Trump was elected president, in the wake of which Oberlin students appeared ready to build on the school’s history of left-wing activism to exercise their angst. Thus this otherwise unexciting crime became their cause célèbre.

    Alleging these suspects were actually victims of racial profiling, students launched a campaign to destroy Gibson’s, a fifth-generation family business that had served the Oberlin community for more than 130 years. They organized protests, distributed leaflets accusing the Gibson family of racism, and worked with school administrators to impose financial sanctions on the bakery. Demonstrations became so aggressive that police say they considered calling the riot squad to restore order.

    Oberlin administrators agreed to boycott Gibson’s, which had long held catering contracts with the college’s dining service, and they allowed students to skip class to participate in protests. The Gibsons alleged that the administrators guided student-government leaders in promoting a resolution to condemn the bakery and Gibson family. Oberlin’s dean of students, Meredith Raimondo, handed out a flier accusing Gibson’s of having a “long account of racial profiling and discrimination.”

    The Gibson family claims administrators told them they’d reinstate the catering contract if they dropped charges against the three shoplifting students and promised to contact the school, not police, if other students stole from their store in the future. The family refused and instead sued Oberlin and Ms. Raimondo, seeking $12.8 million at trial on numerous counts including libel, interference with business contracts and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

    As a result of the protests, boycotts and lawsuits, the Gibson family business, which had survived two world wars and the Great Depression, suffered greatly. Its owners took no salary for two years, and nearly all the staff had to be let go. In their closing arguments, Mr. Gibson’s lawyers lamented that without a ruling in their favor, the beloved Oberlin bakery could be forced to close.

    On June 7 a jury awarded Gibson’s Food Mart and Bakery, as well as the Gibson family, $11 million in compensatory damages. After punitive damages are decided this week, Oberlin College could owe the Gibsons an additional $22 million.

    This historic case received scant media attention during the trial. My publication, Legal Insurrection, was the only national outlet to be present for the entire trial, because we felt Gibson Bros. v. Oberlin College was emblematic of tensions in American culture, particularly the “town vs. gown” divide that pits activist colleges against the places that host them.

    In this case, Oberlin students and administrators appeared happy to smear a family-run institution in pursuit of a “social justice” agenda. Ignoring the facts, they attempted to destroy a business without concern for the damage they were inflicting on a family and workers in their own community.

    Sadly, many victims of similar smear campaigns don’t persevere like the Gibsons did. For individuals and businesses facing progressive political mobs, succumbing to the bullying might seem the easiest way out, even when the accusations are false. But that could result in loss of livelihoods, safety and peace.

    The Gibson family showed that, using the legal system, it is possible to fight back and win. The verdict in Gibson Bros. v. Oberlin confirms that colleges and universities aren’t immune from accountability for participating in aggressive activism among their students, especially when that activism is built on lies and smears.

    For Oberlin, it didn’t have to end this way. At the height of the controversy, the Gibson family says it asked the school to send a letter to students reiterating what had already become clear: The bakery didn’t engage in racial profiling. Administrators refused. Had the college agreed to refute the baseless claims of racism, it is unlikely that the Gibson family would have pursued the matter in court.

    The verdict is in, and it regards more than money. The jury held accountable an unhinged progressive activist college that lost concern for the lives of working people in its community.

    Mr. Jacobson is a professor at Cornell Law School and president of Legal Insurrection Foundation.

  3. It’s a crime against the store owner and I hope they do have to pay the $11 million and not tie it up in appeals for years. It is also a crime against anyone that may be a real victim of racism. Something not addressed in this article nor the lawsuit but the old story about crying wolf is still very applicable.

  4. Academics live in such a bubble that they truly don’t realize how kooky they are. The academics would consider the detention of a black shoplifter as a racist act, because blacks are entitled to never being questioned or challenged about anti-social behavior. And I’m sure the academics were quite surprised that the jurors didn’t agree with their leftist perspective, because the academics surround themselves with others who think exactly as they do. That’s why Oberlin should have hired outside counsel and followed their advice. When the plaintiff asks for $200,000, and you turn that down and get an $11 million smack-down, that should be a major clue that you just don’t understand the perspectives of average jurors.

    1. Mmes. Varner, Raimondo, and Anbar were born under the sign of Incompetus. It’s in their stars.

  5. (music)
    Ober Len! Ober Len!
    Greatest city in Ala Bam!
    Clear across this great big land…
    There ain’t no place like Ober Len.

  6. “The problem was the role of the college in fueling such protests. The complaint portrayed the university as an aider and abetter in such defamatory statements. This could create a serious threat to schools as vicariously liable for the exercise of free speech for its students — liability that could be used to justify no limited on free speech on campuses.

    Schools like Oberlin have used free speech as a Spartan shield while they engage in attacks on individuals and businesses who themselves who offended their students’ sensibilities in some way. Ironically, free speech is the thing schools, colleges and universities have most actively punished. Now they see they can be held accountable for what they say and do.

    I’m just surprised to see Professor Turley express concern over this verdict. Free speech has well-recognized limits. Oberlin’s Dean of Students acted in a way which transgressed those iimits, causing fiscal and reputational damage by design. There’s no case for the argument that Oberlin acted as it did in good faith – they acted as maliciously as they could, given the circumstances.

      1. Not while I lived there, and I left the Denver area about six years ago after living there over a decade. I drove through the city where that baker got in trouble every day; they were a ten-minute drive from gay-friendly Denver and relentlessly mercantile, suburban Aurora. No shortage of bakeries who’d be willing to put almost anything on a wedding cake within an easy driving distance.

        The regulatory oppression of the bakery in question was senseless. The need for honest small businesses to protect themselves in court all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States was nonexistent.

        No state has the right to tell bakers they must put designs on cakes which are repugnant to them. The refusal of that bakery to do so just meant a few telephone calls to bakeries in Colorado’s second-most liberal city, a short drive away, to find bakeries with no such scruples. This was pure abuse of the state’s coercive powers in violation of the First Amendment. Denver’s disregard of the Bill of Rights and their city council’s provision of sanctuary to fellow criminals from across our borders convinced me it was time to move to a state which hasn’t decided the Bill of Rights are mere suggestions.

          1. “Jim Cambell, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Phillips in previous litigation, cast the latest lawsuit as an extension of the religious bigotry that motivated the other suits against Phillips”

            “So this latest attack by Scardina looks like yet another desperate attempt to harass cake artist Jack Phillips,” Cambell said. “And it stumbles over the one detail that matters most: Jack serves everyone; he just cannot express all messages through his custom cakes.”

            This newest assault was predictable. It’s the same thing as suing a kosher deli for not serving you bacon, losing that case, then coming back with a lawsuit because they won’t serve you ham, either.

            Unfortunately, SCOTUS nearly invited a second bite from that apple by saying they were mainly ruling against the state of Colorado’s bureaucrats’ open contempt for Jack Phillips and his beliefs. We’ll see whether or not Colorado’s PC police can finesse this properly, and male it less an open assault on one baker who won’t create what he considers repulsive to his beliefs.

            Meanwhile, I wonder if we can come up with a cake celebrating a Promise Keeper couple’s nth anniversary of not having anything but heterosexual, monogamous sex, and shop that around the bakers of Denver and Boulder to see who responds to the bait.

          2. Logically transgender policies will eventually have to reconcile with gays and women who are being deposed by genetic males and females who say their is no such thing as “gender “

            It’s a logicy contradiction

            Even lesbians are protesting against transgender males Competing in female sports

  7. Free speech wasn’t the issue at the bakery protests. Oberlin Dean of Students Raimudo and other Oberlin employees were handing out pamphlets about the bakery and the family which owns and runs it that were not protected free speech, but defamatory with the intent of damaging or destroying the bakery as a local business. They succeeded in depriving Gibson’s Bakery of most business from Oberlin College, and to an extent, the reputations of the Gibson family who run it.

    The protests went far beyond protected free speech. They just continued the attack on the Gibson family which began when Allyn Gibson was beaten while trying to stop theft of goods from his family store. Oberlin College was and is, at the end of the day, still conducting that attack on the Gibson family.

    Only this litigation has any chance of halting a sociopathic pattern of behavior on the part of Oberlin College. I don’t think even an $11 million award of actual damages will be enough, given Oberlin’s doubling down on their hateful actions and lack of repentance for them.

    Oberlin College is a corporate thug Only the harshest possible punishment is going to stop them from a similar assault on the next local small business they think they can destroy for no legitimate reason. I hope the court, during the punitive damages phase, awards triple damages.

    To paraphrase Reagan: Only when Oberlin feels the heat will they see the light. They have to see their version of “thug life” will, if continued, consume not just their souls, but their endowment. Their budget’s already $9 million in the red this year if the market for their investments continues at the current rate.

    Ironically, a college which teaches its students to condemn capitalism is probably fervently praying for an uptick in the market.

  8. The Complaint should be required reading as a template for how an institution gets corrupted by the Trotskyites of today. The Leftist mob intimidates the feckless college administrators for doing a reasonable job action and then extorts concessions which result in an influx of radicals into the governing apparatus. While there, they lifeline in other radical instructors to inflame the passions of unqualified students who have little to interest them except violent activism and petty theft (though the bakery incident looks more like strong-arm robbery to me). The Left is a virus which injects itself into the host of higher education and uses its host’s tolerance of all manner of whacked out ideas as leverage to destroy the organism. The serum seems to be the court system where some juries still believe in fact based (as opposed to emotion-based) jurisprudence. Pay up Oberlin; it’s good for any soul you have left.

  9. “Everybody’s got a plan, till they get punched in the face.” Mike Tyson

    Oberlin’s master “plan:” distract and utterly destroy Gibson’s, and insure the public perceive their three black criminal thief/batterer students as “dindu nuthins.”

    Oberlin marched fast and furious into the legal ring, and now they enjoy their richly deserved “punch in the face.”

  10. I’d love to see Dr. Turley report on the threats and intimidation by which the “Reverend” Jessie Jackson used to force a major US beer company to give a multi-million dollar distributorship to Jackson’s son.

    It’s ironic that the Creepy Porn Lawyer/ex-Turley student/soon convicted felon facing 403 years (a likely hero of our “Enigma”) Michael Avenatti tried the same tactic on Nike, but it didn’t work because CPL is not a member of any Federal “Protected Class” race, and it (Avenatii) apparently has not found a woman with whom to procreate.

  11. Consider the intellectual level of former years compared today. A Students were 8 or so percent of the graduating classes. Now it’s 30% plus. There was such a thing as D’s and F’s. Now they want anything besides A, B, and C done away with.

    What to do?

    Quit supporting the flattened duncecap set. Education is not mentioned in the Constitution.

    Require an exit exam before validating any of these schools. For students… and for faculty.

    When former students from these schools apply for a job say “Nice but we require a valid college or university dipoma. Anyone here from Mexico?

  12. Freedom of thought, speech, belief, religion, publication, press, socialization, assembly and every other conceivable, natural and God-given right and freedom per the 9th Amendment irrefutably include the right to and freedom of discrimination and racism. Racism is falsely, maliciously and insidiously conflated with acts of violence. No criminal or civil action against discrimination or racism is constitutional. If Americans cannot discriminate, Americans cannot be free and are denied their constitutional rights and freedoms.

    The right to private property denies any and all forms of anti-American, communistic “social engineering” including, but not limited to, affirmative action, quotas, “Fair Housing,” “Non-Discrimination,” rent control, etc.
    _______________________________________________________________

    “Private property is that dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in exclusion of every other individual.”

    – James Madison
    ______________

    The singular American failure since the “Reign of Terror” of “Crazy Abe” Lincoln has been the Supreme Court which considers itself a “political legislative body” and has committed the crimes of high office of abuse, corruption, nullification, subversion and usurpation, for which impeachment and conviction were indicated long ago.
    _______________________________________________

    “…courts…must…declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void.”

    “[A] limited Constitution … can be preserved in practice no other way than through the medium of courts of justice, whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void. Without this, all the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing … To deny this would be to affirm … that men acting by virtue of powers may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.”

    – Alexander Hamilton

    1. “If Americans cannot discriminate, Americans cannot be free and are denied their constitutional rights and freedoms. ”

      I agree. But we also have the right to call out the ones who discriminate. I buy Pepsi, not Coke.

      1. Freedom of speech. Absolutely!

        There’s the constitutional and there’s the unconstitutional.

        …and Americans may petition their government but Congress still retains no constitutional power to tax for individual welfare, merely “…general Welfare…” which means ALL, as in roads, water, sewer, trash pick-up, electricity, post office, etc., – commodities and services that ALL citizens use in similar amounts and frequency , which, by definition, excludes food, clothes, healthcare, etc., which people use differently in types, amounts and frequency.

        It’s all about the “manifest tenor” of the Constitution – the clear meaning of the words.

        “[A] limited Constitution … can be preserved in practice no other way than through the medium of courts of justice, whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void. Without this, all the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing … To deny this would be to affirm … that men acting by virtue of powers may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.”

        – Alexander Hamilton
        _________________

        People must adapt to freedom.

        Freedom does not adapt to people…

        Dictatorship does.

  13. It’s a reasonable inference that Meredith Raimondo, Donica Thomas Varner, and Carmen Twillie Ambar have been steeped in the higher education matrix for so long that they lack the tools to critically evaluate what they have done and why. The trustees should tell all three that they’re out of work, but trustees only do that for certain sorts of bad publicity (the type that embarrasses faculty) and for fundraising shortfalls that might injure the football program. Ideally, Oberlin would be liquidated in bankruptcy.

  14. “Students and faculty seemed uninterested in the findings of the police or the views of the bakery.” What does this say about the quality of the faculty and education at universities? Out of everyone in the country who should have been able to apply reason, it should be an academic. But over and over again in the past decade, we have seen that it’s academics who suspend reason consistently, and instead politicize everything.

    How can students learn how to critically reason through a problem from professors who lack such skills themselves?

    Perhaps with enough of these lawsuits, we will see change in universities.

    1. “What does this say about the quality of the faculty and education at universities?”

      It tells me that the folks who now haunt these once-respected pillars of society are not smart enough to understand how fragile civilization is. They seem to be working hard every day to erode it.

  15. One of our frequent contributors (Enigma) has a guilty until proven innocent perspective regarding charges of racism. I’d be curious to know if he believes the bakery had met whatever his standards are to prove they are not racists? If so, at what point was it proven? If not, what would be acceptable proof?

      1. This was my response to Enigma yesterday on the “Trump Admits Attacks..thread at June 10, 2019 at 11:46 PM. He has yet to respond.

        Enigma: Despite what you think, I don’t blame racism for everything, I just haven’t been able to rule it out.

        OLLY: Well that statement couldn’t be more clear. You begin your analysis of everything with a race bias until you’re convinced it can be eliminated as a motivation. Isn’t that a bit like finding someone guilty until proven innocent? And it’s not as though there is some physical evidence that an innocent person might produce that proves what is in their heart. Isn’t that convenient for those making a living off of race-hustling. Sorry P. T., but apparently there’s a racist born every minute.

        Prove me wrong.

        1. Consistent with a prime directive of progressives, IMO Enigma positively, absolutely, and without question believes black on white racism is a racist ideology. IIRC the black racist Louis Farakhan preaches that an evil black scientist created white people as a curse on the world.

          The sum total point of progressive identity politics is to utterly destroy the West and all it stands for. They believe they shall rebuild the West in their image, which is of course some type of progressive Nirvana wonderland.

          As Jordan Peterson says, one (I’m looking at you progressives who own and rule Kaliforniastan, NY State, etc.) should learn how to make their bed and organize their own apartment before fixing the rest of the planet.

  16. Many of the college faculty, staff and students seem to be obsessed with race now. Perhaps there will be more lawsuits like this one and maybe by the next generation of Americans the young people will be less brainwashed. And by the generation after that we will have university faculty and staff who will not be as brainwashed as they are now, so that the students of the generation after that will also be less brainwashed, and less obsessed with race (and gender, and other things that don’t matter in the real world).

  17. Examples of the term “din’du nuthins?” Exhibit A: the three individuals pictured.

    I recently visited The People’s Rep. of Kalifornistan. If you want to see the direct results of The State telling people all their faults are caused by others, see the three young adult subjects of this article and take a walk through any major city in Kalifornistan.

    Progressive U’s like Oberlin need to close their doors. If a lawsuit helps, all the better.

  18. All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

    George Orwell – Animal Farm

    So when some groups seem to be unable to comply with society’s standards we either change or lower them.

    3 examples – affirmative action in school or college admissions.

    Affirmative action in hiring.

    The decriminalization of subway fare beaters in NYC and DC – the overwhelming majority who are black.

    Mike

  19. Great news.

    The arrogance (plus the basic unfairness of their actions towards the bakery) demonstrated by college officials deserves this tough verdict.

    But Oberlin is compounding the problem with Donica Thomas Varner’s press release after the verdict – a slap in the face of the jury now considering punitive damages.

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