Black man enslaved by white restaurant manager entitled to over $ 500,000, court says

RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) – After a black man with an intellectual disability was enslaved, beaten and forced to work more than 100 hours a week without pay at a restaurant in South Carolina, his manager was sentenced to jail time and $ 273,000 in restitution. . But a federal appeals court recently ruled that the man had the right to double that amount under federal labor laws.

A three-judge panel from the Richmond-based U.S. 4th Court of Appeals concluded that a U.S. District Court judge erred in failing to include an additional $ 273,000 as “Liquidated damages” in his restitution order. Under the April 21 ruling, the court said John Christopher Smith was entitled to a total restitution of $ 546,000. The appeals court sent the case back to the lower court to recalculate the restitution award.

The decision came in a case alleging that Bobby Edwards, Smith’s manager at the J&J cafeteria in Conway, South Carolina, physically and mentally abused him and forced him to work more than 100 hours a week without pay for more than five years, from 2009 to 2014.

Smith, who had an intellectual disability and an IQ of around 70, had been working at the restaurant since he was about 12 years old. During the first 19 years of his employment, when the restaurant was owned and operated by various members of the Edwards family, Smith was always paid for his work.

That changed in 2009 after Bobby Edwards took over the restaurant. According to the account included in the 4th Circuit decision, Edwards, who is white, “effectively enslaved” Smith, moving him to an apartment attached to the restaurant and forcing him to work up to 18 hours a day without pay.

“Edwards did this forced labor by taking advantage of Jack’s intellectual disability and keeping Jack isolated from his family, threatening to have him arrested and verbally assaulting him,” the court said in its decision.

The court said Edwards also physically assaulted Smith by whipping him with his belt, hitting him with kitchen pots, hitting him and once, dipping metal tongs in hot grease and burning his neck by Smith.

After a relative of a restaurant employee notified authorities of the abuse in 2014, the South Carolina Department of Social Services removed Smith from the restaurant.

Edwards pleaded guilty to one count of forced labor and was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. The judge ordered Edwards to pay Smith nearly $ 273,000 in restitution and refused to add damages.

In its decision, the 4th Circuit cited a 1945 United States Supreme Court case which found that the damages provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act is a recognition by Congress that failure to paying the legal minimum on time can be so detrimental to maintaining the minimum living standard that double payment must be made to ensure that the worker returns to a minimum level of welfare.

“For this reason, awarding damages for violations of the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime provisions is the ‘norm’,” Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote for the panel in the 3-0 decision. .

Edwards’ attorney, Deputy Federal Public Defender Emily Deck Harrill, could not be reached immediately to comment on the 4th Circuit decision. A message was left at his office.

The South Carolina prosecutor’s office declined to comment on the decision. The US Department of Justice’s civil rights division did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

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