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.