Oberlin College and its vice president have been accused of libel and slander by a local bakery, the owners of which allege in a suit that administrators supported students in an unfounded campaign to paint the establishment's owners as racist.
The suit against the college and Meredith Raimondo, who is also dean of students, was filed on Nov. 7 in Lorain County Common Pleas Court on behalf of Gibson Bros. Inc., and owners David and Allyn Gibson, the Morning Journal reported.
The complaint comes a year after Oberlin College students held a massive protest in front of Gibson's Food Mart and Bakery, in response to three of their peers being arrested and charged with shoplifting.
Allyn Gibson was physically assaulted by the students during the incident, according to police who arrived on the scene.
The three students pleaded guilty in August to attempted theft and aggravated trespassing.
As part of the deal, the trio had to read statements stating explicitly that their arrests were not racially motivated.
However, a flier disseminated at the Nov. 2016 multi-day protest, which was attended by college deans—including Raimondo—staff, faculty, and hundreds of students, pressed customers to cease patronizing the "racist establishment with a long account of racial profiling and discrimination," according to the suit.
An Oberlin Police Department investigation into the racism charges found that only six of the 40 shoplifters arrested at Gibson's in the last 5 years were African American, according to the report.
The Gibson complaint alleges that the college supported its students in their show of racial outrage in an attempt to push a narrative of Oberlin having a "legacy of being a strong advocate for and a strong supporter of African American students and racial minorities."
Tensions between the Gibsons and the college increased when Oberlin announced on Nov. 14, 2016 that it would no longer do business with the bakery, "in an effort to de-escalate a complicated and very tense situation," as then-Oberlin President Marvin Krislov explained.
David Gibson met with college administrators to reportedly discuss these repeated blows to his business, and was allegedly told that the college would be open to reversing its decision if the bakery would not push criminal charges against the three students.
Administrators also insisted Gibson promise to contact Raimondo, not the police, when future student shoplifters were caught, according to the suit.
Oberlin business with Gibson's was re-initiated in January.
Oberlin College has an interest in seeing the bakery fail, as it seeks to take control of a parking lot adjacent to the bakery and owned by a company in which David Gibson holds the controlling interest, the Journal reported.
The suit's charges against Oberlin and Raimondo include "tortious interference with business relationships, tortious interference with contracts, deceptive trade practices, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring retention and supervision and trespass," according to the report.
The Gibsons are seeking over $50,000.
According to an email sent late Thursday to Oberlin faculty and staff obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, "The College and Dr. Raimondo deny and reject all claims asserted in the lawsuit and we will vigorously defend against them."
Alan Norton, interim vice president for finance and administration at Oberlin, sent the email with instructions that, as of Friday and until further notice, "all College business with Gibson's, i.e. purchases with College funds, is prohibited."
A college spokesperson sent the Washington Free Beacon a statement reiterating the administration's position.
"The College values its long relationship with the town of Oberlin and its businesses, including Gibson's Bakery. We are saddened that the Gibson family has chosen to pursue litigation," reads the statement.
Raimondo may also be wrapped up in a second, unrelated lawsuit, due to her position on the American Studies Association's (ASA) nominating committee, which she has held since 2013. An ongoing suit against the professional organization alleges that the leadership manipulated procedure to push through an anti-Israel academic boycott in December 2013.
Update Nov. 16, 8:54 a.m.: This post has been updated.
Published under: College Campuses