Black man enslaved by White manager should receive more than $500,000 in restitution

Top Stories

(CBS NEWS) — A Black man who was enslaved by a restaurant manager from 2009 to 2014 should have been paid more money after his captor pleaded guilty, according to a South Carolina appeals court. 

In 2019, John “Jack” Christopher Smith was awarded $272,952.96 in restitution, representing minimum wage and overtime he was not rightfully paid while working at J&J Cafeteria in Conway, South Carolina. 

Smith, who has intellectual disability and an IQ of 70, was forced to work more than 100 hours per week without pay by Bobby Edwards, who took over management of J&J Cafeteria in 2009.

Smith had worked at the restaurant as a dishwasher since 1990, but when Edwards took over, he began taking advantage of Smith, forcing him to work. “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,” according to court documents. “His control over Jack also involved physical abuse.”

In 2019, Edwards pleaded guilty one count of forced labor and the district court sentenced him to 120 months’ imprisonment. At the time, U.S. Attorney Sherri A. Lydon said Edwards “has earned every day of his sentence,” for stealing “his victim’s freedom and wages.” 

“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,” Lydon said. 

Edwards was also ordered to pay nearly $273,000 in restitution to Smith, but government requested an additional $272,952.96 in the form of liquidated damages. However, the district court rejected that request.

Now, the Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit says the previous restitution did not account for federal labor laws entitling Smith to $546,000 total. 

The court said that when an employer fails to pay, the employee suffers losses, including “the loss of the use of that money during the period of delay.”

So, to fully compensate Smith for any additional losses, the amount of his restitution should be doubled, the court suggests. The appeals court has vacated the district court’s award of restitution and is asking for recalculation. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.