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Paula Rogo
Oct, 16, 2017

A White South Carolina restaurant manager is being accused of abusing a mentally-handicapped Black employee and making him endure years of “slavery," according to a lawsuit filed against him.

J&J Cafeteria restaurant owner Ernest J. Edwards and his brother/manager Bobby Paul Edwards are being sued for false imprisonment, discrimination, and unfair labor practices against John Christopher Smith, according to local outlets. The federal lawsuit follows a criminal case against the the manager, who was was charged with second-degree assault and battery in 2014. That case is still pending in state court.

“This lawsuit cannot change the past,” lawyer David Aylor  said, “but hopefully it will bring about positive change in the future.”

Smith has worked for the restaurant for 23 years, starting as a dishwasher when he was 12. In 2010, the Edwards brothers took over the restaurant and that is when things went left. 

According to his lawyers, Smith was forced to work 18-hour shifts, six days a week, and an 11-hour stint on Sundays. He was never properly compensated either; his attorneys estimated that Smith was paid about $2,842 per year.

“Beginning in 2010, Smith was viciously ridiculed by Bobby Paul Edwards, who would constantly call him the N-word and beat him with grease-covered tongs, butcher knives, and belt buckles” according to News One. “The beatings occurred in a walk-in freezer, where other employees could hear Smith in agonizing pain. Waitresses told reporters they were afraid to say anything out of fear. Smith was also terrified to report the abuse.”

During this time, Smith lived in squalor behind the restaurant in a roach-infested apartment owned by Edwards. It has been described as “sub-human,” “deplorable” and “harmful to human health.”

In Oct. 2014, Geneane Caines, the mother of one of the waitresses, called the police, the Conway NAACP, and the Department of Social Services. Bobby Paul Edwards was arrested the following month. He is currently free on a $10,000 bond for that case.

But this week he was arrested again after being indicted by a federal grand jury in South Carolina on a charge of forced labor. It carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. If convicted, he will have to pay restitution to Smith.

“Our client is very appreciative of the efforts put forth by the U.S. government in its investigation,” Aylor, told the Post and Courier Wednesday. “And he believes that ultimately, justice will be served.”