David Gibson testifies the college rejected a request for retraction of racism accusations, and wanted the college, not police, called when students were caught shoplifting.
Today was Day 9 of witness testimony in Gibson Bros. v. Oberlin College. The events giving rise to the lawsuit have been said to represent “the worst of identity politics.” You can read about some of the background on this case here.
Today the plaintiffs rested their defamation case against Oberlin College and its Dean of Students.
It became quite clear as the plaintiffs’ case came to an end that there would likely have been no lawsuit if the school had done just one thing. That is, tell their students and the public that Gibson’s Bakery was not – and is not — racist, and it was wrong of student protesters to say that the small business was.
David Gibson, primary owner of the business, finished up on the witness stand today under cross-examination, and he reiterated again that if the school had just sent out a message of retraction against the student protests racist claims, he would have been satisfied enough to move forward.“I had told [the Oberlin College administrators] I had to have a retraction in a letter to the students and faculty,” Gibson said. “I recall [Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo] offering up students we could meet with and discuss the situation, but that would not make sense until the college released a statement retracting the racist claims.”
One thing that was quite evident by Gibson’s testimony under cross-examination is that he went very beyond a typical victim mentality to help ease the tension. He had gone to meetings with school President Marvin Krislov and Raimondo, had gone through losing money as his business was given a “pause” in doing food business with the school, and had seen his revenues slide quickly and without any comeback as the racist claims caused in-store sales to plummet.
What seemed to be the key tipping point for David Gibson and his family was the school ignoring their request for any mention in a letter they were not racist, and the school’s insistence that students be given a “first-time pass” on shoplifting. What that pass meant, according how Gibson testified it was explained to him, was he and other business owners in town would call the school on the first-time a student shoplifted at their store, and then call the police on subsequent thefts.This came to a head in January of 2017, as the school wanted for Gibson to work with them to help “bridge the divide.”
“There had been a discussion on how to handle students shoplifting, and they asked us to call them and not the police,” he said. Gibson said he was given business cards by Raimondo, and Oberlin College chief of staff, Ferdinand Protzman, with their cell phones written in pen on them. Those cards have been admitted as evidence.
Oberlin College lawyer Ronald D. Holman II indicated to the jury, however, that Meredith Raimondo, in her testimony likely to happen next week, would refute Gibson’s claim he was ever asked to give student shoplifters a “pass” at the request of the school.
The letter sent out by the school at the end of January in 2017 did indicate that the school was reinstating Gibson’s as a food provider, but never mentioned that the racism claims against Gibson’s were without merit. Here’s an excerpt of what was sent out to the student body and the rest of the Oberlin College community in late January of 2017.
“Shortly after the incident, the College temporarily suspended its standing baked goods order with Gibson’s in an effort to deescalate a complicated and very tense situation involving our campus community, our downtown businesses, local residents and law enforcement. Since the initial incident, the College has communicated actively with all parties in an effort to contribute to a restorative resolution for all involved.” …
“We understand from our conversations with Mr. Gibson that his family and employees are committed to providing safe, fair, and respectful treatment of all patrons of their establishment moving forward. In all of its business relationships, the College expects that its vendors will put into practice these core values, and we hope that this resolution will allow our broader community to envision strategies to resolve conflicts without violence.” …
“We take these steps in a spirit of mutual respect, a belief in the willingness of all members of our community to share responsibility for conflict resolution, and a deep and abiding commitment to the safety and dignity of all Oberlin residents, college and town … to work with our students and community partners to protect the safety of all people, to nurture a diverse and inclusive community … “
David Gibson wasn’t pleased with the resulting language, as he testified he was told he would have input in the content, but never did. “That letter was so detrimental … it was just too little too late and the business never came back,” Gibson told the jury. “All they were doing was putting out a statement to cover themselves.”
But the students weren’t too happy with the email letter either. Student senator Jesse Docter told the Oberlin Review he was upset by the quick decision, in addition to the student senate was not being notified beforehand for their approval.
“We received no prior communication and were disappointed to see the decision made with limited student input,” Docter told the paper. “At this point our statement of solidarity with the boycott still stands. We’re waiting for organizers to make the first move in light of the administration’s action and the charges that were dropped.”
The irony not mentioned in court is that those accusing Gibson’s of racism, and the Gibsons themselves, agreed that the school did not handle the communications of the racism accusation claims correctly.
The trial continues tomorrow with multiple motions, in which defendants will try to get all or parts of the case dismissed. The jury has been told to stay home tomorrow, and to return on Tuesday.
Oberlin College’s attorneys will begin calling the defense witnesses on Tuesday, after the Memorial Day holiday. Current school president Carmen Twillie Ambar, former president Marvin Krislov, Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo and various administrators and selected students are expected to testify.
Daniel McGraw is a freelance writer and author in Lakewood, Ohio. Follow him on Twitter @danmcgraw1
WAJ adds: The motions to be argued tomorrow are what are called motions for directed verdicts (some courts call them motions to dismiss at the close of the plaintiff’s case). The standard is that all factual inferences based on the evidence presented have to be drawn in favor of the plaintiffs; if after taking the facts and inferences in plaintiff’s favor the court finds that no reasonable jury could rule in plaintiffs’ favor under the applicable law governing the claims, then the claims would be dismissed. It’s not all or nothing, the court could dismiss some claims but not others. It is a legal standard similar to the pre-trial summary judgment standard, so it’s worth looking at the court’s legal rulings on summary judgment, which we covered here: Putting Social Justice Warfare on trial: Gibson’s Bakery lawsuit against Oberlin College heading to trial.
The difference is that while on summary judgment the plaintiff only needs to show that there are disputed issues of material fact, here the court will need to find that sufficient evidence was presented such that under applicable law a reasonable jury could find for plaintiffs. I would not be surprised if some of the more peripheral claims, such as intentional infliction of emotional distress, did not make it to the jury. The real key is whether the defamation and tortious intereference with business claims survive. Based on Dan’s reporting on the testimony, I’d be surprised if those key claims didn’t make it to the jury, but one never knows.
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