Oberlin College has to pay Gibson’s Bakery more than $33 million for leading a woke mob intent on racist defamation. College officials decided that Gibson’s actions to stop a shoplifter were a racist attack. That there was no independent evidence of racism didn’t stand in the way of officials from the liberal arts school, who led protests against the bakery. The fallout has been a years-long legal battle two Gibson family members didn’t live to see resolved. The remaining members will, thanks to a new court ruling, finally see justice: a king’s ransom paid out from the ivory tower.
On Nov. 9, 2016, student Jonathan Aladin tried to steal a few bottles of wine from Gibson’s Bakery, a general store near Ohio’s Oberlin. Allyn D. Gibson, the grandson of the family owner, tried to stop the thief, but Aladin and two friends fought with him until the police arrived. The smear campaign against the shop began immediately. Aladin greeted the police screeching like a wounded animal. He insisted he had been confronted by the clerk for no reason in an unprovoked race-based attack. Gibson is white, while Aladin and his friends are black.
The police body-worn cameras captured father David Gibson pointing to two wine bottles on the floor. “They haven’t been touched by us if you want to get fingerprints.” Then a few seconds later, he asked again: “Do you need fingerprints on those things?” Police told him they didn’t. Concerned, Gibson told the cops that many students were claiming that no attempt at shoplifting had occurred, and then he warned, “They’re going to trash us.”
In Vino Veritas
Police didn’t believe the student and arrested the three. The college responded with coordinated recriminations against the Gibson name and its business interests. The protest campaign was authored largely by its dean of students, Meredith Raimondo. She posted herself outside the store’s doors to oversee the students’ safety. Trey James, a black man and cashier at the store, said Raimondo was standing directly in front with a megaphone, orchestrating the students’ actions.
Though it has not been determined who authored the fliers, here is what they said:
“This is a racist establishment with a long account of racial profiling and discrimination. Today we urge you to shop elsewhere.”
Raimondo was seen passing them out, however. She directed a subordinate to cancel a wholesale food contract the college had with Gibson’s. All “in a claimed effort to appease the angry students,” per the appellate court. Appease them she did, at the cost of ruining Gibson’s reputation with a scarlet R for racism.
Trial by Ordeal
Later, the student shoplifters all pled guilty and reportedly declared at their sentencing that no one exhibited racial bias during the incident. The college played hardball, however, taking advantage of David Gibson’s poor health. “Grandpa” Allyn W. Gibson died on Feb. 12, 2022, and his son David predeceased him at 65 from pancreatic cancer in 2019.
At trial, a jury initially awarded the bakery more than $40 million in punitive and compensatory damages for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and tortious interference with a business relationship. The sum was later reduced to $25 million in damages plus more than $6 million for lawyers’ fees. Oberlin tried to get the whole judgment tossed out. This new ruling from an Ohio appeals court will likely be the final stop for the case. It upheld the judgment for $25 million and fees and costs. Oberlin said it is “reviewing the Court’s opinion carefully as we evaluate our options and determine next steps.” Allyn D. Gibson never received an apology from the school, but sooner or later, he’s going to get a giant check.
That is likely cold consolation for the Gibson grandson, no matter the number of zeroes involved. But for every college president, dean, and provost, the precedent is set. If you use your office to weaponize students in defamation against others, you put the school’s endowment on the line.