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Restaurant manager who forced black man to work without pay owes him more than $ 500,000 in damages, 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 the ruling.
John Christopher Smith was forced to work in a Conway cafeteria without pay for years. His manager, Bobby Edwards, pleaded guilty to forced labor in 2018 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for abusing Smith, a black man who has an 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 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 from the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals based in Richmond, Virginia.

The damages clause in 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 it should be. paid double that amount, the Supreme Court ruled in 1945.

“When an employer does not pay these amounts, the employee incurs losses, which include 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 the initial payment of restitution, for their 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 arrest him and verbally abusing him,” the ruling reads.

Smith feared Edwards, who once dipped metal tongs in grease and squeezed 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 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 go to,” he told the affiliate. “I couldn’t go anywhere. I couldn’t see any of my family.”

The ruling says an employee’s parent alerted authorities to the abuse in 2014 and the South Carolina Department of Social Services kicked Smith out of 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 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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