Gibson’s Bakery has filed a lawsuit against Oberlin College over protests and accusations of racism last November that have hit the business hard.
The document paints a picture in which the college covets the 132-year-old bakery’s property and tried to capitalize on the arrest of three black students in a ploy to acquire it.
Filed Nov. 7 in common pleas court, it names both the school and Meredith Raimondo, vice president and dean of students, as defendants.
Bakery owners David Gibson and Allyn Gibson accuse the college of libel, slander, interference with business relationships, interference with contracts, deceptive trade practices, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring, and trespass.
They are asking for more than $200,000 in damages.
A statement from the college rejects all claims made by the lawsuit.
“We are saddened that the Gibson family has chosen to pursue litigation,” it said. “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.”
The Gibsons’ suit contends the college’s motivation stems from the termination last fall of assistant professor Joy Karega, who is black. Administrators wanted to save face and appear to be strong advocates for minorities, it said.
In a 14-page list of demands, the black student union on campus had asked for Karega to be tenured and complained that the college did not support students of color or hire enough black professors.
Then Karega, in a series of Facebook posts widely condemned as anti-Semetic, accused Israeli intelligence of orchestrating acts of terror.
Raimondo — who had been special assistant to the president for diversity, equity, and inclusion — was appointed to be vice president and dean of students.
The suit claims her promotion was an effort by the college to “better market itself as a strong advocate for and a strong supporter of African-American students and racial minorities.”
On Nov. 9, 2016, the bakery was targeted. College students Jonathan Aladin, Endia Lawrence, and Cecelia Whettstone were arrested after Aladin, 19, attempted to shoplift two bottles of wine and then fled.
According to an Oberlin police report, officers saw Allyn Gibson on his back on Tappan Square, being punched and kicked by Aladin, Lawrence, and Whettstone.
Gibson, who had a swollen lip, abrasions on his arms and wrists, and a small cut on his neck, told investigators that Aladin had threatened to kill him.
Aladin eventually pleaded guilty to charges of attempted theft, aggravated trespassing, and underage purchase of alcohol. Lawrence and Whettston pleaded guilty to attempted theft and aggravated trespassing.
But in the wake of the arrests and long before a trial, hundreds of college students and staff protested outside the bakery for two days, accusing the store of racially profiling black people.
Raimondo handed out flyers to faculty, students, community members, and media representatives, stating that the bakery “is a racist establishment with a long account of racial profiling and discrimination,” the lawsuit states. The flyer also encouraged customers to shop elsewhere.
Oberlin police refuted the racial narrative. They said that among the 40 shoplifting suspects arrested during a five-year period at Gibson’s, only six were African-American.
For more than two months, the college suspended its standing baked goods order with Gibson’s. The Oberlin College director of dining services took a leave of absence and then early retirement after being ordered by Raimondo to cancel the contract because the bakery “had a longtime, positive relationship with the college,” the suit states.
According to the complaint, the college has an interest in the bakery failing. The Gibsons claim the college wants to acquire their building and the adjacent parking lot, also owned by David Gibson.
The college has allegedly encouraged staff, students, and contractors to park in the lot, knowing it was meant to serve customers of the bakery.
David Gibson met with former college president Marvin Krislov to discuss the bakery’s problems.
The college said it was open to reinstating the contracts if the bakery would agree to “not push criminal charges against first-time shoplifters,” and to “call Raimondo rather than the police,” according to the complaint.
Gibson refused, saying his bakery “loses thousands of dollars a year due to stolen merchandise and such losses would certainly multiply if students learned they could steal without repercussion,” the lawsuit states.
“David Gibson believes the policy would be inconsistent with his core belief that an educational institution of higher learning should be teaching its students not to commit robbery and theft, instead of sheltering and excusing that criminal activity,” it says.
The complaint states that bakery employees have been threatened and have had their tires punctured, the Gibsons’ homes have been damaged, and students who choose to shop at the bakery have been threatened.
Own Rarric, one of the attorneys for the Gibsons, said he is confident in the case because “victims should not be punished for reporting crime.”
He said the lawsuit could also result in repayment of permanent damages that are continuing to mount.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.