What Happened At Oberlin

Too often, a young black man will be accused of an offense by the misguided assumption that he’s more prone to crime, more prone to violence, and when this happens, it demands redress. But sometimes, the young black man did it, and the person who accused him is wrongly accused of being a racist. Welcome to Oberlin College.

A student tried to buy alcohol with a fake ID and shoplift from Allyn D. Gibson, David Gibson’s son. Allyn D. Gibson followed the student out of the store, and the two got into a physical altercation.

Two other students got involved, and police have said when they arrived the three students were hitting Allyn D. Gibson while he was on the ground.

Allyn D. Gibson is white and the students are black. The three students pleaded guilty in August 2017 to misdemeanor charges and read statements into the record acknowledging that Allyn D. Gibson was within his right to detain the shoplifter and that his actions were not racially motivated.

Shoplifting isn’t the biggest deal crime around. Nor is trying to use a fake ID. But it’s still a crime, and stealing, despite the views of some newly elected prosecutors, is still inherently wrong. Somewhere else, this scenario might have played out quietly, in the usual course of events, where the kid who stole got his hand slapped. But not at Oberlin College.

But in the two days immediately after the shoplifting incident, Oberlin College students protested in front of the bakery and passed out flyers urging people to boycott the bakery, alleging the bakery had a history of racial profiling. Oberlin College stopped ordering from the bakery after the protests but resumed in January 2017. The college once again stopped ordering from Gibson’s after the lawsuit was filed in November 2017.

Much as the “tough on crime” crowd takes a knee-jerk position that the black kid must have committed the crime, the Oberlin community did the same, but opposite. The white accuser must have been racist. Not just the students, but the professors and the dean of students as well.

The suit also said Oberlin Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo and other college staff members “handed out hundreds of copies” of a flier to the community and the media stating that Gibson’s Bakery and its owners racially profiled and discriminated against the three students.

The court documents include a copy of the flier, which included the words “DON’T BUY.”

“This is a RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION,” the flier read, according to the lawsuit.

The dean subsequently “explained” that she was facilitating free speech by the students. Isn’t free speech good, as the apologists for hate speech keep crying? Oberlin’s general counsel Donica Thomas Varner made the argument.

Neither Oberlin College nor Dean Meredith Raimondo defamed a local business or its owners, and they never endorsed statements made by others. Rather, the College and Dr. Raimondo worked to ensure that students’ freedom of speech was protected and that the student demonstrations were safe and lawful, and they attempted to help the plaintiffs repair any harm caused by the student’s protests.

Nothing about Varner’s argument served to ameliorate the harm done to Gibson’s Bakery or the members of the family.

In May testimony during the trial, David Gibson said the protests “devastated” the bakery’s revenue, which forced staffing cuts. The bakery went from 10 to 12 employees with six to seven of whom were full time to six to seven employees and only one working full time, David Gibson testified during the trial.

This also included several family members working without pay. David Gibson and Allyn Gibson told the court they haven’t collected pay since the protests occurred, nor have David’s wife, son and grandson. David Gibson’s brother, who lives in Canton, works 40 to 60 hours a week at the bakery without pay.

The harm was reflected in the jury’s verdict, totaling $11 million,* which may yet be trebled when the issue of punitive damages is determined.

Aren’t students and staff at Oberlin entitled to protest? Of course they are, and they should be. But that’s not remotely the question here. The college didn’t get slammed for protesting, but for defamation. Defamation is not protected speech, nor does it become protected speech because the students at Oberlin passionately believes that any accusation against a black student must be racist.

There is, of course, a perspective from which this verdict must be wrong, the Gibsons must be racist and the shoplifter must be forgiven, innocent, even if he did what he allocuted to doing. After all, aren’t all white people inherently racist? Aren’t all black people inherently oppressed? And as a member of an oppressed community, despite going to one very pricey college, isn’t the student entitled to steal things from white-owned businesses?

These may well be questions properly pondered in the confines of academia, although the hyper-racialization of criminal issues has served to skew consideration away from the more difficult issues posed by facts and circumstances into the broader philosophical questions that allow any delusion to serve as a substitute for what happened in any individual case.

But when the assumptions of critical race theory manifest on the campus of a college, destroying a legitimate business and its owners, and its owners’ family, by tarring them with blind societal assumptions as racists when the facts ultimately show them to be nothing more than the victim of the petty offense of shoplifting, it’s got nothing to do with social justice. It’s just a wrongful attack based on false assumptions. And when it comes to a campus where the lie is prone to flourish, few places are more likely than Oberlin College.

The assumption that a young black man is likely to be a criminal is racist. The assumption that any accusation of a young black man committing a crime is false is similarly racist. Sometimes, the crime happened and defaming the accuser without regard to the facts is the wrong in need of redress, even if there’s no room in your worldview for facts and the possibility that the white guy isn’t the bad guy and this time, the black kid did it.

The jury heard the facts and Oberlin didn’t merely lose, but suffered a crushing damages verdict that will strain a college in dubious financial position, impact the tuition of future students who played no role in this delusion and likely change no passionate mind on one of the most progressive campuses in America, certain that it must have been racism because that explains everything.

That’s what happened at Oberlin College.

*”The jury awarded $5.8 million for David, $3 million for Allyn and $2.2 million for the bakery, with a further determination to be made of whether to award treble punitive damages. I defer to the jury on the appropriateness of the amounts awarded.

64 thoughts on “What Happened At Oberlin

  1. Scott Jacobs

    I like that the college slammed the jurors before punitive damages have been awarded. That always works out well.

    1. SHG Post author

      The purpose of exemplary damages is to teach a lesson. It appears from the college’s effort to salvage its ideological dignity that the damages verdict has taught it nothing.

      1. B. McLeod

        The evidence submitted to the jury really did show extreme conduct on the part of the college, basically setting out to make an example of this business without regard to the fact that it had never discriminated or racially profiled students as claimed.

        In the face of the verdict, Oberlin just keeps repeating its argument that the jury rejected. Sadly, most of the media outlets covering the verdict are reporting that continuing obfuscation by the college rather than discussing how awful its conduct was shown to be by the evidence actually presented to the jury.

        1. SHG Post author

          I have yet to hear any serious arg from Oberlin. It’s unclear whether that’s Oberlin or the reporting.

          1. LocoYokel

            What serious argument could they make in the face of the evidence and verdict? Seems to me that they have no facts or law so all they have left to pound on is the table.

  2. MIKE GUENTHER

    Too bad the college wasn’t more contrite and doubled down on their stupidity with an open letter to the community decrying the jury’s decision. That’s going to go over real good during the punitive phase of the trial.

    But I guess they can afford it with an endowment of close to a billion dollars.

  3. Aerth

    About damn time SJW mob learn you can’t just accuse someone of racism without any proof and walk away like nothing happened.

  4. Killer Marmot

    “There is, of course, a perspective from which this verdict must be wrong, the Gibsons must be racist and the shoplifter must be forgiven”

    Well yes there, but it has nothing to do with racism. It has do with how much the university actively facilitated this. I’m not convinced the university administration did enough to deserve an $11 million judgment (plus punitive damages) against them.

      1. Killer Marmot

        Fine. Explain to me what the university administration did to instigate the backlash against the bakery.

        There are allegations that an administrator was handing out pamphlets, although she denied it. Even if true was she leading the activism or just supporting it? If a lone administrator was simply supporting what was primarily a student-led protest, is that worth $11 million plus punitive damages? Not in my book.

        I can easily see this judgment being appealed, resulting in a private settlement for considerably less (although we might never find out the terms).

        And no more smart ass remarks, thanks.

        1. SHG Post author

          Damn, the pathology of narcissism is always good for amusement. First, your comment got smacked because you phrased it as a typical narcissist would, that you are somehow so special that you need to be convinced. Rather than phrase it as an issue, you phrased it about yourself, because you’re a typical narcissist.

          Turning to your idiocy, the jury made its finding, and found liability. You have doubts? That’s nice, but the jury disagreed even if it’s not “worth” $11 million in your book, as if your book matters to anyone. Who the hell are you to demand an explanation? The jury reached its verdict. That’s how law works.

          And finally, you comment on my blog and you’ll get your pathetic narcissist ass smacked as often as I care to post your vacuous crap. You don’t like it? Don’t comment, you flaming narcissistic asshole.

          1. Miles

            Do you not realize he’s the center of the universe? What is wrong with you, mean old man?

            And no more smart ass remarks, thanks

            1. Guitardave

              …sometimes you gotta let a rat in the house so the cat can keep in shape.

              “Damn, the pathology of narcissism is always good for amusement. ”

              And your responses go one better…Educational and Amusing!….Damn good bang -for-the-buck, if you ask this narcissist.

          2. Killer Marmot

            Insults and ad hominems because you disagree with someone’s viewpoint. I don’t think I’m the narcissist here.

            But hey, it’s your blog. I’ll be sure to avoid it from here on in as not being tolerant of the least bit of dissent. Agree with the author or keep off. Got it.

            1. David

              It’s amazing how the reaction is always the same, every single time. It’s like they went to the same narcissist school.

          3. Jeff

            There’s no upvote buttons on your site (though, I am advised, there is a tip jar), so I need to comment to show my support of this utterly painful response. You know, because my opinion matters so much more than Killer Marmot here. Feel free to moderate as you see fit, but that was incredible. Golf clap, etc.

            I don’t understand the sense of entitlement on display that leads one to expect validation of their view. But, with that said, neither do I demand that you explain it to me.

            1. SHG Post author

              Sometimes, they grasp the narcissistic manner in which they attempt to make a point, and after appropriate admonition, rephrase to make it about the point rather than all about them. It’s kind of the litmus test for pathological narcissism. Seems to work exceptionally well.

              Just checked and you’re right, there still is tip jar. Go figure.

        2. Marc Bruno

          Killer Marmot- I am not knowledgeable enough about all the facts here to draw a conclusion about the verdict. However, I agree with your legal analysis that it might be greatly reduced on appeal. There seems to be many things the college did wrong, but they are not all “legal things.” Not all wrongs have a legal remedy. For all its arrogance, the school might be given some sort of reprieve on appeal. One thing in the article is not quite right, by the way. The author states: “Aren’t students and staff at Oberlin entitled to protest? Of course they are, and they should be. But that’s not remotely the question here. The college didn’t get slammed for protesting, but for defamation. Defamation is not protected speech . . .” Sounds good, but not quite true. “Defamation” and free speech questions in the law are intimately tied together. It’s impossible to judge a defamation case about protesters without looking at the larger context. For instance, a crime was committed here. Reports were filed in the public forum. Whether of not the Gibsons are “public persons,” they became public, perhaps unfairly, when they were forced to stop a crime in their store and when the crime moved out on to the street. All these are delicate issues that speak to whether or not other citizens– the students– have a right to protest in the pubic forum the Gibsons’ view of the crime. Anyway, the whole thing is unfortunate and I hope the bakery and college can remedy the situation in a personal and not only financial way. It seems the bakery was wronged, and the people who work there deserve recompense and an apology.

          (This is coming from someone who decided to leave law school after two years but then worked for the SF District Attorney and other lawyers over the past 20 years.)

          1. SHG Post author

            Since this is an older post, I’ll indulge your comment just this once even though it’s of the sort that makes people stupider. Two non-lawyers getting law wrong (and don’t let your ignorance of facts on top of it get in the way) rarely serves any purpose other than to kill brain cells and provide a catharsis to the ignorant. This is a law blog, for lawyers and judges. Crap like this has no place here.

    1. Joe O.

      I can’t help but think about the value of the verdict. The jury knows a lot more about this case than any of us would ever hope to, but I have yet to see anything resembling a convincing explanation of the damages. I would love to see some reporting on the accounting involved. I’m also very curious to see what the 9th District Court of Appeals will have to say about the verdict, should it make it there intact. As someone predisposed to disliking Oberlin, I’m scratching my head on this story.

      1. Joe O.

        That wasn’t supposed to be a reply. Technology is hard.

        [Ed. Note: Tough nuggies. You pushed the reply button.]

      2. SHG Post author

        Does the inherent inconsistency of saying “the jury knows a lot more about this case than any of us would ever hope to,” and yet questioning in the complete absence of any basis to question, not strike you as kinda stupid, Joe? KM’s fault was asking as if his being convinced matters. Yours is that you may “feel” that the verdict is too high, but you have no basis other than your feeling while acknowledging that the jury, who actually heard evidence, knows more. Why is it worth commenting about your feelz when you have absolutely no reason to question the amount?

        If Oberlin appeals, as it likely will should they not settle, the amount of the damage award will likely be argued. At that point, there may be something to discuss. At this point, it’s just your feelz, Joe.

        1. Joe O.

          It’s less my feelz and more my curiosityz, hence my fingernails making contact with my scalp. A lot of people (not me) have strong feelz about this case and the dollar amount, but the reporting is sorely lacking.

          1. SHG Post author

            What’s a decade in prison worth? A broken leg? Emotional distress? It’s not as if there’s a price list.

            1. Cary

              Oberlin (through its food service vendor) cancelled a standing order of $500 each day for Gibson’s baked goods. That is roughly $175k per year. This bakery has been in existence since 1855. Assuming the bakery were to survive well into the future (why wouldn’t it?), that $175k translates into $5m over 30 years (future value, of course). That is just one account. Oberlin at trial put a worth of $35k on Gibson’s. Of course that is what Oberlin wanted to achieve – the destruction of a family owned institution. Oberlin’s hubris and malice toward Gibson’s was breathtaking. $11m? Sounds about right.

        2. Ondine HD

          SHG:….. why don’t you remove your blog, and be quiet??? Some of us just landed here by accident! Yes, the “jury reached its verdict” as you say, but that may not be the end of the story… Have you ever heard of judges adjusting a verdict, or rejecting a verdict due to jury prejudice ( “town” vs. “gown” here). I do not take sides, but things in this case are far from being “black” and “white,” and there are many grey areas, too nuanced for you to detect and understand! So, be quiet, you, who is the one who is the narcissistic here!!! (PS: You can delete my comment if you wish: I am sure it does not fit the parameters of your little (((echo chamber….)))!

          1. SHG Post author

            Yes, I can delete your comment, whether you give me permission or not, but I would much rather others see your brilliance. As for removing my blog and being quiet, shan’t.

      3. KronWeld

        Not a lawyer, don’t play one on TV, nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but not sure why the 9th District would have anything to say about it. I thought Ohio was in the 6th District Court of Appeals.

        1. SHG Post author

          This was in state court, so it goes to the 9th District. Sixth Circuit is the federal appeals court.

          1. ElSuerte

            I’m having a lot of trouble with the fact/non fact distinction in defamatuon law.

            It seems like a lot of the statements at issue are are classic opinion or the kind of hyperbolic shitflinging that isn’t covered under defamation.

      4. Grant

        The Plaintiff’s trial brief claimed $5.3 million in lost profits. It also claimed $13.5 million in lost reputation. Lost profits depends on math (and a good economic expert). Reputation is more feelz. Looks like the jury split the baby.

        Once I realized (from the claimed lost profits) that the bakery had been making bank, I was more inclined to believe that its reputation could be worth something.

      5. John Hayes

        Since Oberlin is in OHIO and the Ninth District Court is on the WEST COAST, I rather doubt that it will say anything at all.

      6. andrews

        but I have yet to see anything resembling a convincing explanation of the damages

        The jury likely heard, in greater detail than we have here in the blog, information about an on-going business which provided a livelihood for several people as well as an asset for the family. That business was essentially ruined, with the workers left unemployed and the family’s economic future at least imperiled.

        I could certainly see livelihoods of 10-12 people, along with a family’s profitable heritage, as being worth a large sum of money.

    2. Ron

      I was on the fence until I saw that you, some random person calling himself Killer Marmot, were unconvinced, whereupon I said to myself, “Oh my god, if Killer Marmot is unconvinced, then I must revisit my views as that’s more than sufficient reason for me to be unconvinced, because how could anyone think differently than some random guy on the internet who calls himself Killer Marmot.”

      Does this help you to understand what was wrong with your comment and why the spanking you received had nothing to do with your disagreement and everything to do with your narcissism? You’re welcome.

  5. Black Bellamy

    Meredith Raimondo was held liable on the first three counts: Libel, Tortious Interference with Business Relationships, and Tortious Interference with Contracts.

    After the verdict, Oberlin said “Neither Oberlin College nor Dean Meredith Raimondo defamed a local business or its owners…”

    What is Oberlin’s product? Cognitive dissonance? I wonder why they didn’t just go full blast, trumping up “total exoneration”, “a victory for the ages”, and “…finally proves there’s no room at Oberlin for racists and bigots like the despicable Gibson family.”

    I’ve never really been sued, so I’m wondering; if I ever totally lose, there’s no sanctions for me for immediately telling the entire world I totally won, calling the other guy a loser, and doing a happy dance video? I can just totally do that no prob?

    1. SHG Post author

      That line from the post-verdict response by the GC was particularly odd given the verdict. But if they’re going to appeal, what else can they do but deny?

      1. John Neff

        Perhaps the intended audience were the donors and the GC was trying to limit the damage.

  6. Jeff

    The communications are pretty damning.

    [Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.]

    By the sounds of it, Raimondo considered the students to be her personal army, (“I’d say unleash the students if I wasn’t convinced this needs to be put behind us.”) and upon recommending that the students not protest on a particular day (because it was having the opposite effect and driving business to the bakery), students stopped protesting on that day.

    1. B. McLeod

      “Unleash” actually signifies that she considered the students to be the intellectual and functional equivalent of attack dogs (suggesting she fully understands the true scope and purpose of the “education” provided by Oberlin).

    2. wilbur

      The University of Missouri fired Melissa (“I need some muscle over here”) Click. We can safely assume Oberlin will not fire Raimondo. In fact, they may promote her.

      But don’t feel bad for Click. She was hired shortly afterwards by Gonzaga.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    If Oberlin’s administration continues to double down on stupid and claim they won the lawsuit will this leave Oberlin vulnerable to lawsuits for false advertising since it has ceased to be a learning institution?

  8. robert perrotto

    If a faculty member was, in fact, distributing flyers, then that crosses over into being an active participant instead of ensuring the students free speech rights. The other aspect involved was, Oberlin cancelling their business arrangement with the bakery did in fact contribute to financial loss to the bakery. There is obviously much that we on the outside are not privy to yet until the whole trial is completed and the records are entered into the public domain

  9. Chris Halkides

    Oberlin’s former president said that the food order was cancelled because the students indicated that they would not eat it. He also said that he tried to work with the owner to de-escalate the situation. Dean Raimondo said that she gave a flyer to a reporter that she had been given. She also disputed that she had used a bullhorn to address the students several times. She said that she used it only once and that her purpose was to identify herself to the students who were protesting (Scott Mahoney’s reporting at the Chronicle-Telegram).

  10. Bryan Burroughs

    Sorry if this is a dumb question, but I’d like to see the jury decision. I’m not a lawyer (I’ll bet you didn’t know that!), so I dont know where to look. Google is only giving news articles. Can you spare a link to the jury decision or something that would state the facts decided? I’m a glutton for punishment and enjoy a good legal read before bed.

    1. SHG Post author

      Juries don’t write decisions. They issue verdicts, as in for whom and in what amount. There is such a thing as a special verdict, where they answer specific questions put to them by the court, but that’s a different matter.

  11. MonitorsMost

    Raimondo should have told the students “if we catch any of you going in any of them racist stores, we’re gonna break your damn neck.” Then she would have been home free.

    I question whether these legal theories will survive on appeal. But it’s unfortunate that these people are uncontrite and feel justified in aiding or encouraging protests which now appear to have been wholly without merit. The First Amendment doesn’t prevent you from engaging in self-reflection and recognizing the harm caused by your protected douchebaggery.

  12. James Justice

    Maybe the Alumni who participated in these demonstrations will cough up to replenish their coffers! I doubt that will happen. I wonder if any of these students have any remorse? This College has too many employed people at the top who are not the brightest bulbs in the pack and hopefully the College will wind up in the toilet where it belongs!

  13. Beetles

    It appears the spokespeople at Oberlin have failed to recognize they have already lost. In their “cognitive dissonance” they might believe this verdict will somehow be overturned (they’re the good guys and they’re right, don’t ya know) but now that the punitives have been assessed on the top of the actual damages, the best case may be to have the punitives cut to the state statutory limits, (2x actual, I have read elsewhere.)

    If I were an Oberlin alumnus inclined to scratch out a check to my alma mater, this train of events and its outcome would make me pause, but maybe that’s just me. I would want to see some new faces at the helm before believing my earned money was in the hands of adults.

    I suspect the disciplinary processes at Oberlin are considerably more protracted for university officers whose conduct brings national disrepute and imposes significant monetary liability on the institution. I am sure it is not the quick walk to the public sidewalk with uniformed security and a cardboard box. Still, that is what ought to happen to Ms. Raimondo and her abettors. I guess we’ll see.

      1. CHenry

        ZCZC
        Here’s the Cliff Notes version:
        1. This isn’t going to get overturned in Oberlin’s favor. They’ve lost. Best case: damages awarded plus 2x actual in punitives.
        2. The alumni should be angry and stop giving money to Oberlin as long as the current administrators are employed there. As is, they are a liability.
        3. Raimondo should be canned for cause. Leaving that to her colleagues and their methods, that won’t happen quickly and possibly not at all. Refer back to 2, above.
        NNNNEND

        Condensed enough for ya?

  14. Dave Farriday

    At the risk of sounding sexist, my lived experience is that there is a persistent aspect of the female psyche, when in leadership, that somehow cannot readily accept defeat, even when such acceptance is called for. I posit that men are uniquely qualified to utter (with bloody noses): “Ok, you won, I lost. I will tangle with you no more.” At that point the victor is able to offer post-battle mercy and possibly friendship. This happens in schoolyard fights and (bereft of examples, at the moment) in business. Hence, I conclude: men should be running things. More narrowly, I predict that OC Prez CT Ambar will find herself unable to offer Gibson’s anything like, “Oops. OC was wrong. I give.” In my naïve world of right-wrong, Oberlin College should suck it up and refuse its “rights” to appeal…but…ppppLLLLLLL…not gonna happen, and it’s because….she lacks a “Y” chromosome.

      1. Dave Far...riday

        Good point. My more nuanced reply/assertion would be that, statistically (in my experiences), one gender seems more able to state, “I made a mistake” than the other. I waffle between making it a categorical assertion and allowing for exceptions. Btw, I am an Oberlin alum, and I suppose that could now be verified if I had (unwisely?) used my real name, instead of “Ball of squirming caterpillars” or some other moniker. No take backs? ruh-roh

        1. SHG Post author

          At least it wasn’t Antioch. I have a curious relationship with stereotypes, whether they’re about me or anyone else. They don’t arise out of nothing, but general experience. At the same time, they’re never entirely correct or universally applicable, so any individual can fit or not fit. But without them, it would be essentially impossible to navigate the thousand people we come into contact with daily, since we don’t have the time or opportunity to know them up close and personal. They get a bad rap, on the one hand, but should never be taken too seriously on the other.

          BTW, I can fix the handle on your earlier comment, if you like. That may be a bit more risque than you intended to put under your real name.

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