Black Man Enslaved by White Boss for 5 Years Entitled to $546,000 in Restitution Payment, Court Rules
John Christopher Smith was initially entitled to $273,000 in restitution payments from his former boss Bobby Paul Edwards at J&J Cafeteria, but the Court of Appeals ruled that the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina did not account for federal labor laws in the initial decision.
"Minimum wages and overtime compensation must be paid on a current basis as work is done, such that an employee receives the prescribed compensation without delay. 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," the Court of Appeals wrote in its filing.
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Edwards was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Nov. 2019 after he pleaded guilty to "one count of forced labor for coercing an African-American man with an intellectual disability to work extensive hours at a restaurant for no pay" for his abuse of Smith from 2009 to 2014, the Department of Justice announced in a press release at the time.
In a statement from the DOJ obtained by PEOPLE in June 2018, Assistant Attorney General John Gore said, "Human trafficking through forced labor can happen on farms, in homes, and as today's case shows, in public places, such as restaurants,"
"Edwards abused an African-American man with intellectual disabilities by coercing him to work long hours in a restaurant without pay," Gore continued. "Combatting human trafficking by forced labor is one of the highest priorities of this Justice Department and today's guilty plea reflects our commitment to seeking justice on behalf of victims of human trafficking."
In the recent filing from the Court of Appeals, the judges wrote that Smith "has an intellectual disability and an IQ of 70."
Smith initially began working at the restaurant in 1990 as a part-time dishwasher at 12 years old, but it had been under management of a different member of Edwards' family and was "always paid for his labor" until Edwards took over in Sept 2009, per the Court of Appeals.
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The J&J Cafeteria owner forced Smith to work more than 100 hours unpaid per week with no days off. Edwards threatened the employee with arrest, verbal abuse and physical abuse leaving Smith "physically and psychologically scarred," the Court of Appeals wrote in the new ruling.
According to the court, the victim stated, "I felt like I was in prison. Most of the time I felt unsafe, like Bobby could kill me if he wanted. ... I wanted to get out of that place so bad but couldn't think about how I could without being hurt."