Oberlin College has to pay $11 million in damages after a bakery won a lawsuit alleging the school defamed or otherwise libeled the family-owned shop.
The lawsuit, filed by the Gibson’s Bakery shop in November 2017, was settled this week when an Ohio jury ordered Oberlin College to pay $11 million to the bakery after being accused of libelous behavior. Following an attempt to shoplift from the local bakery, the lawsuit alleged that Oberlin employees — and the institution itself — spread defamatory information against the bakery for allegedly racist behavior.
In Nov. 2016, an Oberlin student, Jonathan Aladin, was caught attempting to steal wine from the bakery. Two other individuals, according to the lawsuit, were also arrested and accused of misdemeanor assault during the same altercation.
In response to the arrests, protests and boycotts against Gibson’s bakery ensued with protesters accusing the store of being racist as Aladin is a minority. Reportedly, numerous employees of Oberlin attended these protests, passing out allegedly libelous flyers which read: “[Gibson’s] is a RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION.”
In addition to accusing the bakery of racist behavior, the flyer called for an economic boycott as well.
“Today we urge you to shop elsewhere in light of a particularly heinous event involving the owners of this establishment and local law enforcement.”
The flyer included a description of the incident, claiming that Aladin “was apprehended and choked” by a Gibson’s employee and subsequently “chased and tackled” prior to being arrested by local police.
In response to the accusations of sustained actions of discrimination, the Oberlin Police Department conducted its own investigation into the bakery’s history, finding that of the 40 adults arrested for shoplifting at Gibson’s in the past five years, only six were black.
Aladin went on to plead guilty to a second-degree misdemeanor charge after the felony robbery charge was dismissed. Aladin and the other two individuals arrested during the attempted theft gave statements during their respective sentencing hearings back in 2016.
“The clerk was within his legal rights to detain me,” Aladin wrote. “And I regret presenting a fake ID in an attempt to obtain alcohol. This unfortunate incident was triggered by my attempt to purchase alcohol. I believe the employees of Gibson’s actions were not racially motivated. They were merely trying to prevent an underage sale.”
According to the lawsuit, Oberlin College has participated in several libelous and defamatory actions against the bakery including demanding a service contract between the two parties be canceled and continuing to display statements accusing Gibson’s of “racial profiling and discriminatory treatment of students and residents alike” in the student union building on campus.
The lawsuit also alleges that Oberlin college paid for a limo service to transport Aladin, free of charge, to meet with a “high profile criminal defense lawyer.”
The lawsuit claims that several Oberlin college administrators and faculty members publicly disparaged the bakery and used college resources to promulgate libelous information. One unnamed Oberlin administrator, the associate dean of Academic Affairs, has been accused of using Oberlin resources to print copies of the flyer.
Meredith Raimondo, Oberlin’s current vice president and dean of students who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, is accused of distributing the flyer to individuals both on and off campus.
Raimondo also met with David Gibson, the owner of the bakery, to discuss an agreement between the two parties for the bakery to call Raimondo when an Oberlin student is caught stealing rather than report the incident to the police or pursue charges. Raimondo’s offer was denied.
The Oberlin vice president is accused of personally demanding the Oberlin College director of dining services cease engaging with a food service company that had contracts with Gibson’s. Raimondo’s actions caused the third-party food company to cancel its contract with Gibson’s. This decision was later reversed and Gibson’s Bakery is currently back under contract with the company.