Black Man Enslaved By White Restaurant Manager Deserves More Money: Court

A white restaurant manager in Conway, South Carolina has been ordered to pay back twice the restitution owed to the Black man he enslaved for five years, a court ruled recently. 

John Christopher Smith, a Black man with an intellectual disability, was forced to work at the J&J Cafeteria 56-year-old Bobby Paul Edwards managed for five years without pay. A court ruled on April 21 that Edwards, who is in prison for the crime, will pay Smith double for unpaid wages and overtime. 

According to The Washington Post, Edwards pled guilty in 2019 to forcing Smith, 43, to work at the restaurant without pay. The Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that Edwards will have to pay Smith $546,000 instead of the $273,000 originally set by a court. The increase came after the appeals court said the original ruling didn’t take into account federal labor laws that entitled Smith to double the restitution. 

Between 2009 and 2014, Edwards forced Smith to work over 100 hours per week without pay through physical violence and threats

According to the report, Smith had worked at the restaurant since 1990 when he was 12 years old and Edwards’ relatives owned and operated the business. In 2009 when Bobby took over, pay and humane treatment ceased, court documents say. 

Edwards even housed Smith in an infested apartment Edwards owned that Smith’s attorneys described as “deplorable,” “sub-human,” and “harmful to human health.”

Smith’s attorneys say Edwards took advantage of Smith’s disability, isolated him from family, called him racial slurs, and threatened to have him arrested.  

“Most of the time I felt unsafe, like Bobby could kill me if he wanted,” Smith said, according to court documents. “I wanted to get out of that place so bad but couldn’t think about how I could without being hurt.”

A relative of an employee who also worked at the restaurant alongside Smith called the authorities to rescue Smith in October 2014. Other employees hadn’t reported the treatment Smith faced out of their own fear of Edwards. 

“Customers that were going in there would hear stuff and they didn’t know what was going on, and they would ask the waitresses, and the waitresses were so scared of Bobby they wouldn’t tell them then what it was,” Geneane Caines, whose daughter-in-law worked at the restaurant, told WYFF

Edwards was sentenced to 10 years in prison on top of the financial restitution to be paid to Smith. 

Photo: Getty Images 

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