Putting Social Justice Warfare on trial: Gibson’s Bakery lawsuit against Oberlin College heading to trial
Legal Insurrection Foundation will have a reporter in the courtroom for the trial.
Gibson’s Bakery in Oberlin, Ohio, is in a pitched legal fight with Oberlin College. It’s a classic town-gown fight, the working class locals versus the wealthier and often out-of-state students, faculty and administrators — but added into the mix is Oberlin’s infamous social justice warrior culture.
Toxic Social Justice Warfare Culture Meets Trump Victory
Oberlin College long has received negative, and sometimes mocking, national news coverage because of the outlandish social justice battles, including The Great Oberlin College Racism Hoax of 2013, and a December 2015 14-page list of student demands:
More recent strife on campus involved protests by the Black Student Union over the quality of food in the Afrikan Heritage House.
Oberlin also is known for non-racial activism, such at the “trigger warning” protests against the appearance of Christina Hoff Sommers.
A student tipped us off that starting last night students began circulating and signing a 14-page list of 50 separate demands, in the name of the Black Students Union (BSU)….
The stated Goals of the Demands are:
Our larger goals are to see:
1. An increase in Black and students of color represented in the institution from the Americas, including the Caribbean and Africa
2. An increase in Black administrators and faculty across departments and governing bodies
3. The divestment from all prisons and Israel
4. Exclusive Black safe spaces on campus
5. The active elimination of institutional complacency that allows violence against Black
students to thrive and persist
6. The eradication of hegemony in the curriculum across the College and Conservatory
7. The end of Oberlin College functioning as a gentrifying institution
8. An end to the erasure of Black contributions on this campus
If the Demands are not met, a “forceful response” is threatened:
As you will see these are not polite requests, but concrete and unmalleable demands. Failure to meet them will result in a full and forceful response from the community you fail to support.
The Demand List ends with another warning:
These are demands and not suggestions. If these demands are not taken seriously, immediate action from the Africana community will follow.
Former (and now fired) professor Joy Karega brought further negative publicity with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories spread on Facebook, against a long history of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hostility on campus.
This toxic mix of racialized social justice warfare found Gibson’s on November 9, 2016, the day after Trump’s 2016 election win. The campus experienced what many liberal campuses and liberal college towns experienced — an emotional breakdown.
The student-run Oberlin Review wrote how students viewed Trump’s win as the end of the world:
Waves of fear and shock spread across campus Tuesday ntight as an unlikely reality set in: Donald Trump is going to be America’s next president.
More than 300 students attended the ‘Sco’s election watch party, many of whom sat in tearful silence with head in hands as Trump won every crucial battleground state. Crowds in the ’Sco and Azariah’s mustered occasional cheers when Hillary Clinton took brief leads, but the events eventually ended with students returning home distraught, some loudly commenting, “The world is going to end tomorrow.”
The local Chronicle-Telegram reported on November 10, 2016, Oberlin residents, students reeling from election results:
Students, faculty and residents grappled with their feelings about a Donald Trump presidency in the aftermath of his election, something many in the left-leaning city said they never saw coming.
Students outside the Slow Train Cafe wept as they watched Hillary Clinton deliver her concession speech on cell phones and tablets.
Oberlin was one of only four municipalities in Lorain County that voted overwhelmingly for four more years of a Democrat in office: 4,575 voted for Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine. A mere 412 voted for Donald Trump and Mike Pence.
Elizabeth Kuperman, a resident of the city, said the first thing she did when she got up Wednesday morning was head to Tappan Square to spray paint the rocks. In bold colors, one read, “Love still trumps hate” and another read, “Not my president.”
She then walked around the city for hours holding a sign that read “Hugs,” and at one point stopped to write “I am sad” in chalk on the ground.
“I feel deeply sad. I’m disappointed,” Kuperman said. “I’ve had many people break down in my arms, actually.”
Later in the day, she hung up sheets of paper with an apology to the planet.
“Many of us are not OK with this, and I want the rest of the planet to know I’m really, really sorry,” Kuperman said.
Social Justice Warfare Targets Gibson’s Bakery Day After Trump Win
A shoplifting incident at Gibson’s Bakery on November 9 would turn the student body, faculty and administrators against Gibson’s, as if they were taking out the frustration and fear of the election result out on a local institution that supplied baked goods to the college food service.
The lawsuit arises out of accusations by Oberlin College students, allegedly assisted by Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo and others at the college, that Gibson’s was racist and engaged in racial profiling after the arrest of three black Oberlin College students for shoplifting. Protests outside Gibson’s ensued, as did a boycott of Gibson’s by students and the college.
The college community backed the protesters.
The community backed Gibson’s.
The students later pleaded guilty.
For more background, see our prior posts.
- Bakery targeted by Oberlin College #BlackLivesMatter fights back
- Oberlin College halted purchases from Gibson’s Bakery targeted by #BlackLivesMatter, but may reconsider
- Gibson’s Bakery sues Oberlin College over racial profiling accusations, Oberlin cuts business ties
- Oberlin College lashes out at Gibson’s Bakery, portrays itself as victim
- Court: Gibson’s Bakery lawsuit against Oberlin College can continue in full
- Oberlin College: We can’t get a fair trial in our home county
- Judge rejects Oberlin College request to move town-gown lawsuit to another county
- Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College — Trump 2016 win stoked student protests over shoplifting incident day after election
We temporarily became part of the story when the college attempt to obtain records from Legal Insurrection relating to our coverage. After we moved to quash the subpoena and for a protective order, the college withdrew the subpoena.
Court Ruling: Most Gibson’s Claims Will Go To Trial
The lawsuit has been hard fought, at least according to the court docket which has 12 pages of entries. Much of this litigation was whether Gibson’s would survive “summary judgment” — the process by which a defendant can get a case dismissed if there are no material disputed issues of fact and the defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In defamation and other tort cases, defendants often have a good shot at dismissal because of the high legal standards to get to trial.
But Gibson’s will get its trial on most of its claims, as the Court just ruled against Oberlin College’s motion for summary judgment as to most counts. The Court Ruling (pdf.) is embedded in full at the bottom of this post.
The Court first described the background, writing in part:
On the evening of November 9, 2016, efforts were made to organize a protest outside Gibson’s Food Market and Bakery the following day. Members of Oberlin College Staff and Administration were made aware of these efforts, and Dean of Students and named Defendant, Meredith Raimondo communicated with other faculty and staff members about having a meeting on November 10, 2016 in advance of the scheduled protests. Some of the individuals included in that communication were present at the protests. The morning of November 10, 2016, Oberlin College community affairs liaison, Tita Reed, notified the Oberlin Police Department and other local businesses of the coming protests.
The protests began on November 10, 2016 at approximately 11 :00 AM and proceeded for approximately two days. Present at the protests were members of the media and general public, police officers, and an estimated crowd of a few hundred people that included Oberlin College students as well as some members of Oberlin College’s faculty, staff, and administration. Included among those present was Dean Meredith Raimondo, a party to this lawsuit.
During the protest, protesters held signs, chanted, and distributed a flyer that stated in part that Gibson’s is “a RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION.” Some of the specific facts regarding distribution of the flyer are in dispute, but deposition testimony was presented indicating protesters and Oberlin College staff distributed copies of the flyer and/or utilized college copy machines to make additional copies of the flyer. Also during the protests, Meredith Raimondo handed a copy of the flyer to Jason Hawk, a reporter from the Oberlin News Tribune.
On November 10, 2016 members of the Oberlin Student Senate released a written resolution that stated in part that “Gibson’s has a history of racial profiling and discriminatory treatment of students and residents alike [ … ].” The resolution called upon Oberlin College students to stop supporting Gibson’s Food Market and Bakery. It also called upon then college President Marvin Krislov and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo to “condemn by written promulgation the treatment of students of color by Gibson’s Food Market and Bakery [ … ].” Following its release, the resolution was posted in Wilder Hall on Oberlin College’s Campus for a period of at least one year. On November 11, 2016, Marvin Krislov and Meredith Raimondo sent a joint statement via email to all Oberlin College students that outlined the administration’s plan to address the events of November 9, 2016.
On November 12, 2016 the then-department head for Oberlin College Department of Africana Studies published a Facebook Post on the department’s Facebook page that read: “Very Very proud of our students! Gibson’s has been bad for decades, their dislike for Black people is palpable. Their food is rotten and they profile Black students. NO MORE!”
From November 14, 2016 through January 30, 2017 Oberlin College suspended all business with Gibson’s. This included a prohibition of purchasing Gibson’s items with any college funds, and prohibited business between Gibson’s and Oberlin College
Dining Services or Bon Appetit Management Company, a separate food service provider for Oberlin College.
On January 30, 2017, Oberlin College resumed business with Gibson’s until the instant lawsuit was filed on November 7, 2017.
The Court then listed the Plaintiffs eight counts asserted against Oberlin College and Meredith Raimondo:
Count 1: Libel
Count 2: Slander
Count 3: Tortious Interference with Business Relationships
Count 4: Tortious Interference with Contracts
Count 5: Deceptive Trade Practices
Count 6: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
Count 7: Negligent Hiring, Retention, and Supervision
Count 8: Trespass
The Court went through each Count. You can read the full legal analysis below. Perhaps of most importance, the Judge said the Libel claim could go to trial because the accusations by the students as amplified allegedly by Raimondo and the college, were not protected opinion.
As to the flyer, the court found there were facts to support that it was “published” by the college and Raimondo, and that the allegations were sufficiently factual as to be actionable:
…. Here, it is undisputed that Meredith Raimondo presented at least one individual, Jason Hawk, with a copy of the protest flyer. The remaining evidence surrounding the distribution of the flyer, and the explanations for doing so, are in dispute. But Plaintiffs have presented testimony from individuals who say they observed Raimondo and other Oberlin College employees handing out flyers at the protest. Further, Plaintiffs offered evidence that Defendants permitted the protesters to make copies of the flyer on the Oberlin College Conservatory’s Office’s copy machine during the protests and provided protesters with refreshments and gloves for use during the protests….
* * *
… Here, the accusation that Gibson’s has a “long account of racial profiling and discrimination” goes beyond implication and directly tells the reasonable reader that the author’s previous statement that “[Gibson’s] is a racist establishment” is supported by a lengthy and potentially documented record of racial profiling and discrimination. To the average reader, the statement of a LONG ACCOUNT OF RACIAL PROFILING AND DISCRIMINATION suggests that the publisher has knowledge of a documented past history of such activity. The “LONG ACCOUNT” language implies to the reasonable reader that the publisher’s statement is based on defamatory facts that have not been disclosed. See Id. at 251-52. The implication of the undisclosed facts supporting the statements of the flyer make them as damaging as an assertion of fact. See Scott, at 251-52. A letter from the Defendants also supports verifiability. On November 11, 2016, and in response to the events at Gibson’s Bakery on November 9, 2016, Marvin Krislov, then President of Oberlin College and Meredith Raimondo, Dean of Students, issued a joint statement. In the context of the alleged racially charged incident, they said: “We will commit every resource to determining the full and true narrative, including exploring whether this is a pattern and not an isolated incident.” The Defendants indicate a willingness to “commit every resource” to determine “if this [racial discrimination] by the plaintiffs is “a pattern and not an isolated incident.” The Defendants’ willingness to commit resources is probative of their belief that a pattern of racial discrimination by the Plaintiffs is in fact verifiable. In this Court’s view, a “pattern of racial discrimination” and “a long account of racial discrimination” are synonymous and plausibly verifiable….
Based on a totality of the circumstances and construing the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, the non-moving party, it is this Court’s view that the statements made in the flyer are not constitutionally protected opinion.
The Court also found the student government resolution actionable, but not a campus-wide letter from the college president and Raimondo, and a Facebook post by a professor.
Not all Counts survived, as the Court summarized at the end:
Defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Count Two (Slander) as to both Defendants; Count Five (Deceptive Trade Practices) as to both Defendants; and Count Seven (Negligent Hiring, Retention, Supervision) as to Defendant Meredith
Raimondo only. Plaintiffs’ remaining claims will proceed subject to the above limitations.
What this means is that on the core claims — libel and interference with business relations — the student social justice warfare against Gibson’s and the college’s alleged encouragement of such venting, will be put on trial as well.
The evidence is potentially explosive. The Chronicle-Telegram recently that Documents reveal attempts to ‘smear the brand’ of Gibson’s:
An associate professor at Oberlin College wrote that the protests conducted by students outside of Gibson’s Bakery in 2016 to “smear the brand” of the business had been achieved.
A message sent by associate professor of music theory Jan Miyake said, “So heres one rhing (sic) on my mind about gibsons. They own so much prime property in oberlin that boycotting doesnt hurt them that much. The smear on their brand does, and that’s been taken care of.”
The transcript of Miyake’s message was included in a recently unsealed court filing made by the attorneys for Gibson’s as part of the lawsuit filed against the college and Meredith Raimondo, vice president and dean of students, for libel, slander, interference with business relationships, interference with contracts, deceptive trade practices, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring and trespass.
The document also included some testimony given by Miyake during a deposition for the case. Miyake was asked what she meant by “the smear on their brand does.”
“So the — I — it’s –—that hurts to have your brand smeared,” Miyake said. “So boycotting them doesn’t really hurt them, but having your brand hurt.”
When asked how Gibson’s brand was smeared, Miyake said, “They protested outside the store for three days chanting, ‘Racists.’”
Miyake was then asked what she’d meant that the smear of the brand had been taken care of.
“It — it means that there’s no reason to keep doing that,” she said. “It’s done.”
A particularly chilling text allegedly was sent by Raimondo to another administrator, the Chronicle-Telegram further reports:
In other internal communications included in the filing, Raimondo allegedly “threatened to weaponize the student body” against a professor after he spoke out against the defamation and boycott of Gibsons, court documents said.
According to court documents, Vice President for Communications Ben Jones sent a text message saying, “(Expletive) ROGER COPELAND.”
“(Expletive) him,” Raimondo responded in a message. “I’d say unleash the students if I wasn’t convinced this needs to be put behind us.”
That a Dean of Student would even joke about “unleash[ing] the students” is particularly chilling to those of us who have been the object of social justice warfare.
I suspect the jurors will hear more about this when the trial starts on May 2.
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