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Court rules black man enslaved by South Carolina restaurant manager is owed more than $500K

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Bobby Paul Edwards forced an intellectually disabled black employee to work extensive hours for no pay between 2009 and 2014

Image Source: WSB-TV screenshot

A federal court has ruled that a South Carolina restaurant manager who forced a black man with intellectual disabilities to work in excess of 100 hours a week without pay owes more than $500,000 to the man he effectively enslaved.

The Post and Courier reported last week that the defendant, Bobby Paul Edwards, has been ordered to pay John Christopher Smith, a 43-year-old black man, $546,000 in restitution.

Edwards is currently serving a 10-year sentence on one count of forced labor for coercing Smith to work extensive hours for no pay at J&J Cafeteria in Conway, South Carolina, between 2009 and 2014, according to a Department of Justice press release.

In his original sentencing in November 2019, Edwards was ordered to pay Smith $273,000 in restitution, a figure that covered the minimum wages and overtime pay he had been previously denied. But after federal prosecutors appealed citing the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Fourth Circuit ruled that Smith is entitled to more money since there was considerable delay in his being paid.

"When an employer fails to pay those amounts, the employee suffers losses, which includes the loss of the use of that money during the period of delay. So fully compensating the employee requires accounting for losses from the delay," the court wrote in its decision, adding, "These additional losses could, in part, be compensated by interest."

"We therefore vacate the award of restitution and remand for its recalculation," the court stated.

After the case was sent back to district court for a decision on how much more Smith would be owed, the court decided to double the amount.

Edwards' enslavement of Smith began when Edwards took on management responsibilities at the restaurant where Smith served as a buffet cook, according to court documents. Smith had worked at the restaurant since 1990, when at 12 years of age he started washing dishes and busing tables.

"Edwards effected 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 abusing him," the court stated.

"His control over Jack also involved physical abuse," the court added, recalling incidents in which Edwards "dipped metal tongs into hot grease and pressed them to Jack's neck" and "whipped him with his belt, beat him with kitchen pans, and punched him with his fists."

The abusive treatment finally came to an end in 2014, when a relative of an employee alerted authorities to the situation and the South Carolina Department of Social Services intervened.

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