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Jury Forces Oberlin to Pay $11 Million to Bakery It Falsely Accused of Racism

Claims of racism or hate against restaurants, retailers, and even schools are becoming more commonplace. Once accused, a business can have a very hard time recovering, even if they did nothing wrong or were targeted deliberately.

One business in Ohio experienced this first hand when its owners were falsely and publicly accused of racial discrimination by a near by college in 2017.

Gibson’s Bakery sued Oberlin College after the school, students, and officials launched a campaign of libel and harassment against the business, which resulted in a dramatic loss of income and the near closure of the once popular bakery. The harassment began after a 2016 incident in which a black Oberlin student shoplifted bakery items and attempted to buy alcohol, despite being under 21. The bakery owner confronted the shoplifter and was beaten by the student and two others. Owner Allyn Gibson was on the ground being punched and kicked when police arrived.

His assailants were black. Gibson is white. When the three students were arrested for assault and theft, the college launched a campaign of terror against the bakery in protest. From blacklisting the bakery to threatening patrons and attacking the business for being racist (even though the assailants were arrested by police, not the bakery), a two-year campaign against the brand was launched. Students, groups and even college administration participated.

The Gibson family, owners of Gibson’s Bakery, finally had to file a lawsuit to protect their business and financial future. Several family members worked for over a year without pay to keep the business going. Students spent days standing outside, handing out flyers and telling potential customers that the business was racist.

“People (were too) scared to come in. It’s hard to believe it could get that way in a small town,” Gibson said.

Three years after the initial theft and assault, the case finally headed to court. After the bakery filed suit, the case headed to the courtroom and an Ohio jury found for the plaintiffs. The award of $11 million included compensation for libel, for the deliberate harm caused and for the injuries sustained in the original confrontation.

The school was included in the complaint because the protests and libel campaigns were supported and coordinated by faculty and staff, including Meredith Raimondo, the dean of students and college Vice President, who led the campaign against the bakery. Both the school and Raimondo were named in the lawsuit; the funds awarded were from the school, because of their inaction and their employee’s sustained smear campaign against Gibson’s.

Neither the college or Raimondo has responded to reporter inquiries about the incident after the verdict came in.

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