The Gibson family, owners of a bakery in Oberlin, Ohio, won a multimillion dollar libel suit last June against Oberlin College over its race-baiting slanders against them. Since then the college has appealed the $31 million verdict and has engaged in various legal maneuvers to undermine the family’s victory. The Gibsons now face a new legal assault that threatens their rights and livelihood.
On Dec. 2, lawyers for the family filed their opposition to a motion to unseal Facebook records of one of the bakery’s clerks and allege Cleveland media outlets are collaborating with Oberlin College. The bakery’s attorneys argue this is a backdoor attempt by Oberlin College to continue their three-year smear campaign against the Gibsons and the bakery, claiming racism.
College officials filed — and lost — an earlier motion to make public the Facebook records of Allyn D. Gibson. These records had been sealed by the court prior to the trial in the Gibson lawsuit. Both the Gibsons and the college administration agreed to the court’s action at the time.
On Nov. 1 WEWS-TV, Advance Ohio (Cleveland.com) and the Ohio Coalition for Open Government filed an almost identical motion to unseal the same Facebook records.
Oberlin College’s lead trial lawyer, Ronald Holman, was a legal analyst for more than 10 years for WEWS-TV.
Allyn D. Gibson is the son of one of the store owners, the late David Gibson, and was not a party to the lawsuit. He did not testify at the trial nor did the college seek to introduce his private records as evidence at the trial. He was the store cashier who three years ago stopped three Oberlin College students who are Black from using a fake ID to buy wine and shoplifting some. The students later testified in a hearing on the charges that no racism or racial profiling was involved by the Gibsons.
In the days immediately after the shoplifting, Oberlin College Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo and other college officials helped organize student protests outside the family store and a boycott against it. The Gibsons were accused of a long history of racism and “racial profiling.” Gibson’s Bakery, which is located just next to the campus in what is essentially a company town, had supplied the school cafeteria with baked goods for more than a century. In all that time there had never been a complaint of “racism.”
The Gibsons sued the administration only after college officials didn’t back off their vilifications against the family.
The news outlets now aiming to unseal Allyn Gibson’s Facebook records carried little coverage of the lawsuit and trial but now claim that the “public interest” in these private records “outweighs” all confidentiality considerations.
In their Dec. 9 legal reply to the Gibsons’ opposition to unsealing the Facebook records, the media outlets don’t answer, and fail to deny, the family’s allegations that they are colluding with Oberlin College.
In the lawsuit trial the college never produced a single witness to give testimony about alleged racist behavior by the Gibsons. In fact, the bakery is popular among working people in the area, including those who are Black. For days after they won their libel case, hundreds of workers came to the bakery to express their support and to spend money there.
The college’s efforts to punish the Gibsons, and to continue their race-baiting smears against them, make clear the stakes for working people in this fight. We need to continue to get out the word and defend the Gibsons in their battles against the administration of one of the most expensive colleges in the country.