Restaurant manager who forced black man to work without pay owes him more than $500,000 in restitution, court rules

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 judgment.
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 intellectual disability.

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

But the court “erred in failing to include liquidated damages” in the restitution, a provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act that would have doubled the amount of restitution received by Smith, according to the April decision of the 4th United States Circuit Court of Appeals based in Richmond, Virginia.

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

“When an employer fails to pay these amounts, the employee suffers losses, which includes the loss of the use of that money during the period of delay,” the Federal Court of Appeals said.

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

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

Smith endured years of abuse

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

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

“Edwards performed 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 insulting him,” the decision reads.

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

But Smith also feared what might happen if he tried to escape, he said. Affiliated with CNN WPDE in 2017.

“I wanted to go from there a long time ago. But I had no one to go 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’re talking about slavery here,” Abdullah Mustafa, then local chapter president of the NAACP, said at the time.

CNN has reached out to the Conway chapter of the South Carolina NAACP for comment.

CNN’s Faith Karimi contributed to this report.

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