Alfie Oakes, Oakes Farms sues School District of Lee County for $50M
A month after the School District of Lee County severed ties with Oakes Farms after a controversial Facebook post by the business owner, Alfie Oakes has filed a lawsuit against the District.
The District said June 11 it would work with other suppliers after Oakes made a Facebook post criticizing “Black Lives Matter” protests and the coronavirus pandemic.
Soon after the June 8 post that some felt was racist, a petition went up calling on the Lee and Collier school districts to cut ties.
Collier County said it was only using Oakes Farms as a stop-gap for the summer months but would use other suppliers. Lee County, a few days later, said it would begin working with other suppliers, severing its contract with Oakes.
Oakes said he never received an explanation from the District in regards to why it cut ties with him.
He told WINK News that his post wasn’t meant to offend.
Oakes says he is seeking $50 million in damages. He says he filed the lawsuit to stand up for his company and his employees.
“I don’t feel like it’s against the school district,” Oakes told WINK News.
Oakes says he stands by the post he made on Facebook and is not suing the District out of anger.
“We have several employees that could lose their job,” he said. “I’ve fought through hurricanes and [COVID-19], and, so far, I haven’t let anyone go but the loss of business.”
Oakes says cuts ties between Oakes Farms and the District put 700 of his employees at risk of losing their jobs.
“The reason they said they ended the contract was for convenience, and that’s not really a legal way to void a contract,” Oakes said.
Oakes says they had been working with the District for years and looked forward to more. But, after the controversial comments he made, the school district cut ties with the farm owner.
Legal expert Pamella Seay at FGCU says this lawsuit will all come down to what the contract says.
“At some point, they will need to look and say what are the terms and conditions of the contract,” Seay explained. “Under what conditions can this contract be terminated.”
If it can’t be terminated, Seay say, “They canceled it without following the terms of the contract, then, the gentleman may have a claim of damages as a result of that.”
But Seay says the District could be at an advantage if it is written on paper that part of the contract had not been followed.
“Were his actions related to the performance of the contract, if so, then, the school would be on solid ground,” Seay said.
Oakes also filed a separate complaint to Florida Department of Law Enforcement, accusing the school district of not following Sunshine Law open meeting rules.
The School District of Lee County said it couldn’t comment “due to pending litigation” and had no comment about the complaint submitted to FDLE.
Regardless, Oakes says he hopes they will be able to work this out.
“More than anything, I would like to have our contract back in place with Lee County,” he said.