Restaurant manager who forced black man to work without pay owes him over US $ 500,000 in damages: court


South Carolina man who was forced to work more than 100 hours a week for years without pay and subjected to verbal and physical abuse was supposed to receive nearly US $ 273,000 in restitution after his former manager pleaded guilty .

But that initial amount was too low, an appeals court ruled in April. The man should have received more than double that amount – closer to $ 546,000 – from the director to account for federal labor laws, according to the ruling.

John Christopher Smith was forced to work in a cafeteria in Conway without pay for years. His manager, Bobby Edwards, pleaded guilty to hard labor in 2018 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for abusing Smith, a black man with an intellectual disability.

In 2019, a U.S. District Court judge ordered Edwards, who is white, to pay Smith about $ 273,000 in restitution, which represented Smith’s unpaid wages and overtime.

But the court “erred in not including liquidated damages” in the restitution, a provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act that would have doubled the amount of restitution Smith received, according to the April ruling. of the 4th United States Court of Appeals based in Richmond, Virginia.

The damages provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act states that if failure to pay a worker’s wages on time is so damaging to that worker’s “minimum standard of living”, then they should be paid on time. double that amount, the Supreme Court ruled in 1945.

“When an employer does not pay these amounts, the employee incurs losses, which includes the loss of the use of that money during the delay period,” the federal appeals court said.

The district court will now calculate the new amount owed to Smith.

CNN has contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Carolina and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, which ordered payment of the initial restitution, for comment.

Smith endured years of abuse

Smith started working in the cafeteria as a part-time dishwasher at the age of 12, according to the recent ruling. His first 19 years of employment there, when the restaurant was run by other members of Edwards’ family, was paid.

But when Edwards took over the restaurant in 2009, Smith was moved to an apartment next to the restaurant and forced to work more than 100 hours a week without pay, according to the ruling.

“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,” said the judgment.

Smith feared Edwards, who once dipped metal tongs in grease and poked them into Smith’s neck when Smith failed to quickly restock the buffet with fried chicken, the ruling said. Edwards also whipped Smith with his belt, punched him and beat him with kitchen pots, leaving Smith “physically and psychologically scarred”, according to the ruling.

But Smith also feared what might happen if he tried to escape, he told CNN affiliate WPDE in 2017.

“I wanted to get out of there a long time ago. But I didn’t have anyone to turn to,” he told the affiliate. “I couldn’t go anywhere. I couldn’t see any of my family.”

The ruling says a relative of an employee alerted authorities to the abuse in 2014, and the South Carolina Department of Human Services removed Smith from the restaurant that year.

“We are talking about slavery here,” said Abdullah Mustafa, then president of the local branch of the NAACP at the time.

CNN has contacted the Conway Chapter of the South Carolina NAACP for comment.


About Vivian J. Smith

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