Black Man Forced into Slave Labor Wins Judgment of More than $500K
In a story as appalling as many of the racially motivated attacks on African Americans and one that was relatively obscure, a federal appeals court ruled that a White man should pay more than $500,000 to a Black man with intellectual disabilities whom he enslaved at his restaurant.
Bobby Paul Edwards, who employed John “Jack” Christopher Smith at his J&J Cafeteria in Conway, S.C., from 2009 to 2014, pleaded guilty to one count of forced labor and was sentenced in 2019 to 10 years in prison. A civil court judge ruled that Smith had been forced to work for more than 100 hours a week without pay.
The lawsuit filed against Edwards said that he provided Smith with an apartment during his employment, but the conditions were akin to living in squalor.
“They were subhuman,” attorneys for Smith wrote in court briefs.
They said Edwards regularly subjected Smith to harsh treatment, including berating him with racial slurs and often threatening to do physical harm.
Smith was awarded $272,952.96 in damages and wage repayment in 2019, but a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated that decision late last month, sending the case back to the lower court to essentially double the amount awarded to $546,000.
“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,” read the appeal ruling.
According to reports, Smith worked at J&J for more than 30 years. He began working at the restaurant when he was just 12. When Edwards took over the business from his family, that’s when the mistreatment of Smith began.
His attorneys said Edwards forced Smith to work 18-hour shifts for six days each week and 11 hours on Sunday. The lawyers said Smith received just under $3,000 annually under Edwards.