Elyria, OH – A Lorain County jury on Friday awarded more than $11 million to a family-owned bakery that was accused of racism by Oberlin College after three students were caught shoplifting.
The jury found that Oberlin College Vice President Meredith Raimondo and Oberlin College had libeled the family and the business when Raimondo published a flyer that claimed the bakery owned by the Gibsons had a history of racial profiling, the New York Post reported.
Raimondo was also held accountable for interference with business relationships while the jury held only the school responsible for the intentional infliction of emotional stress, The Chronicle-Telegram reported.
The Gibsons filed the lawsuit after an incident that occurred in 2016 that resulted in the bakery being labeled “racist” by the local college in the Oberlin community that three generations of Gibsons had served since 1885.
On Nov. 9, 2016, 20-year-old Jonathan Aladin, and his 19-year-old friends, Endia Lawrence and Cecelia Whettstone, went to Gibson’s bakery where Aladin tried to buy a bottle of wine with a fake ID, according to The Chronicle-Telegram.
Allyn Gibson refused to make the sale or return the student’s fake ID, and then pointed out the two bottles of wine that Aladin had shoved up under his shirt.
Gibson said he was calling the police and Aladin tried to leave. Gibson took out his phone to take a picture of the shoplifters and Aladin slapped it out of his hand, hitting him in the face, The Chronicle-Telegram reported.
Aladin then dropped the two bottles of wine and dashed out the door of the bakery, with Gibson on his heels.
When police arrived, Aladin was holding Gibson down on the sidewalk, and Aladin, Lawrence, and Whettstone were all hitting him, The Chronicle-Telegram reported.
In the two days after the incident, Oberlin College students protested in front of the bakery and handed out flyers, drafted by Raimondo, that said the bakery had a history of racial profiling – an assertion that was patently untrue.
The college also stopped ordering from the bakery after the protests.
But despite the hue and cry by the liberal arts college, the shoplifters ended up admitting in court that they were stealing and that the actions Gibson took that day had nothing to do with race, The Chronicle-Telegram reported.
Aladin pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of attempted theft, aggravated trespassing, and underage purchase of alcohol.
His cohorts, Lawrence and Whettstone, pleaded guilty to attempted theft and aggravated trespassing, The Chronicle-Telegram reported.
The judge ordered each student to pay $334 in restitution to account for out-of-pocket expenses incurred by Gibson’s medical bills.
The amount of money awarded to the Gibsons was $2 million less than their attorneys were asking for; however, the case is not yet over.
The bakery family and Oberlin College are headed back to the Lorain County Common Pleas Court with their attorneys on Tuesday for the punitive phase of the award, the time when a jury may consider punishment for the guilty party in the form of an additional monetary judgement, The Chronicle-Telegram reported.
Gibson said he was thankful the trial was over and that he looked forward to returning to normalcy.
“People [were too] scared to come in. It’s hard to believe it could get that way in a small town,” he said.
His son, David Gibson, said he’s putting the stress behind him and looking to the future.
“I don’t want to be afraid to even work there anymore,” he said. “I just want this to send the message so that we can enjoy our community and the business that we’ve had for all these generations.”