A small family-owned bakery with delicious pastries in Oberlin, Ohio, is in the news again, but not for anything they’ve done. After a six-year battle, the owners of Gibson’s Bakery finally defeated efforts by Oberlin College administrators to destroy them through a slanderous race-baiting campaign. Now the college administration is suing four insurance companies to recover the multimillion-dollar award a trial jury ordered the college to pay the Gibsons.
In the suit the college claims the insurance companies refused “to honor promises they made in their respective policies to protect the interests of Oberlin College,” and its former vice president and dean of students, Meredith Raimondo.
The fact is, in their unrelenting promotion of slanders against the Gibsons, Raimondo and other college officials prolonged the losing litigation with years in appeals that almost forced the family into insolvency. They hired more and more lawyers, driving up costs and legal fees the insurance companies now refuse to pay.
The suit, filed in Lorain County Common Pleas Court in April, targets Lexington Insurance Company of New York; United Educators Insurance of Bethesda, Maryland; Mount Hawley Insurance Company of Peoria, Illinois; and StarStone Specialty Insurance Company of Cincinnati.
Oberlin College’s dispute with the Gibsons began Nov. 9, 2016, when a student tried to use a fake ID to buy wine. After that failed, he put the bottle under his coat and walked out. Allyn Gibson Jr., the grandson and son of the two co-owners, followed him outside and stopped him. The shoplifter and two friends, all students at Oberlin, started beating Gibson. The police arrived and arrested the three, all of whom are Black. They eventually entered guilty pleas and were convicted, with the Gibsons agreeing not to insist on jail time.
The day after the shoplifting hundreds of students demonstrated outside the store, along with Raimondo and other college administrators who helped organize the protest. They produced a flyer claiming Gibson’s Bakery was a “RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT OF RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION,” while never producing a shred of evidence to back up these slanders. Protests continued the next day.
Oberlin College administrators refused to retract their accusations, so store owners Allyn Gibson and his son, David, both now deceased, sued the college, charging they had been libeled by the school and their reputation and business had been harmed.
In June 2019, after a five-week trial, jurors unanimously found the college guilty and awarded the Gibsons $44 million in compensatory and punitive damages. This was subsequently reduced to $25 million plus legal fees, under an Ohio law that caps such awards.
In their appeals, the college administrators argued unsuccessfully they were just standing up for the free speech rights of their students. The insurance companies say they shouldn’t now be penalized for the college’s expenses in pursuing these appeals.
Over the next three years, the administrators expanded their legal representation in driving forward with appeals, jacking up legal costs and placing undue hardship on the Gibsons and their bakery. But last year, Ohio’s Ninth District Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the jury’s verdict and the Ohio Supreme Court that August refused to hear yet another appeal by the college.
College officials assumed they could pummel the Gibsons forever, based on $75 million in insurance coverage. Through dragging out the appeal, the damages originally awarded earned interest, increasing it to $36.59 million, which the college finally paid to the Gibson family and bakery, and their lawyers, last December.
In its current suit against the insurance companies, Oberlin admits that shortly before the 2019 trial the case could have been settled for less than $10 million. The Gibsons were asking for an apology from college administrators for their race-baiting slanders. But college authorities were not willing to do this, then or to this day.