The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has ordered a White South Carolina restaurant manager to pay $546,000 as restitution to a Black man with intellectual disabilities after he forced him to work at an eatery under his management for five years without pay.
The recent ruling comes after a district court initially ordered 56-year-old Bobby Paul Edwards to pay $273,000 to John Christopher Smith in unpaid wages and overtime compensation after he reached a plea deal with authorities in 2019, The Washington Post reported. Edwards, who ran the J&J Cafeteria in Conway, was also sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of forced labor.
However, an April 21 ruling by the appellate court determined the district court “had erred” in not calculating the initial amount based on federal labor laws – meaning Smith was actually entitled to $546,000 or twice the amount. Smith, who worked at the restaurant from 2009 to 2014 without any remuneration, was also subjected to physical and racial abuse by Edwards during that period. Smith was also reportedly forced to work for over 100 hours every week and was not entitled to any day-offs.
“When an employer fails to pay those amounts (regular and overtime pay), the employee suffers losses, which includes the loss of the use of that money during the period of delay,” the ruling determined.
Smith, 43, started working at the eatery as a dishwasher and table busser in 1990 at the age of 12. And though he initially did not have any issues with the previous restaurant managers, things started to go south when Edwards took over in 2009. With the now-convicted Edwards in charge, Smith was denied his salary and was treated without any respect for human decency.
Edwards forced the Black worker to move into an apartment that was infested with roaches, The Washington Post reported. Smith’s attorneys said the apartment, which belonged to Edwards, was “sub-human,” “deplorable” and “harmful to human health.” Besides that, a Department of Justice report also stated Edwards subjected Smith to physical abuse. This included beating him into submission, whipping him with a belt, knocking him with pots and pans, and at one time, burning him with hot grease. Edwards also prevented Smith from having any contact with his family and threatened to call the police on him.
“Most of the time I felt unsafe, like Bobby could kill me if he wanted,” Smith said, per court documents. “I wanted to get out of that place so bad but couldn’t think about how I could without being hurt.”
Edwards was eventually arrested in 2014 after a lady whose daughter-in-law worked at the restaurant reported him to authorities. Workers at the restaurant were initially hesitant to report Edwards out of fear of retaliation from him.
“For stealing his victim’s freedom and wages, Mr. Edwards has earned every day of his sentence,” U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina Sherri A. Lydon reportedly said after his 2019 sentencing. “The U.S. attorney’s office will not tolerate forced or exploitative labor in South Carolina, and we are grateful to the watchful citizen and our partners in law enforcement who put a stop to this particularly cruel violence.”