A Black handicapped man is seeking justice after being rescued from a boss who physically and mentally abused him for years.
J&J Cafeteria restaurant owner Ernest J. Edwards and manager Bobby Paul Edwards are being sued for false imprisonment, discrimination, and unfair labor practices against 37-year-old John Christopher Smith, The Post & Courier reports.
The former employee claims he was hit with frying pans and beat with belts towards the end of his nearly two-decade-long employment. Smith started working at the Conway, South Carolina restaurant at the age of 12, washing dishes and tables. He suffers from mild delayed cognitive development, causing him to function below average.
Beginning in 2010, Edwards 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. 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. His lawyers claim he was forced to work 18-hour shifts six days a week and 11-hour shifts on Sundays with little to no breaks. During his employment, Smith was only paid $2,842 yearly.
In Oct. 2014, one of the waitresses informed her mother-in-law about the abuse. Geneane Caines called the police, the Conway NAACP, and the Department of Social Services. Scars on Smith’s neck from the tong burns gave credence to the investigation, leading to the manager’s arrest in Nov. 2014. He was charged with second-degree assault and battery.
Paul Edwards is currently free on a $10,000 bond and was ordered not to speak to Smith or leave the state.
The Post & Courier reports:
The civil suit in U.S. District Court lists 14 accusations against J&J Cafeteria in Conway, owner Ernest J. Edwards and manager Bobby Paul Edwards, who are brothers. It also names the restaurant’s registered corporation, Half Moon Foods Inc. In the statement Monday, lawyers Mullins McLeod and David Aylor called Smith’s ordeal troubling and outrageous.
“This lawsuit cannot change the past,” Aylor added, “but hopefully it will bring about positive change in the future.”
Smith talked to WMBF News about his ordeal.
“I want him to go to prison, and I want to be there when he go,” Smith said. It’s been a little more than four months since Smith left the restaurant, and according to Caines, he’s doing much better. “He’s a total different person now; he holds his head up high, he’s very happy, very outgoing, he don’t even act the same,” said Caines.
Ernest Edwards told reporters he didn’t know about the abuse since he manages the family’s other restaurants in Myrtle Beach.
Abdullah Mustafa, the president of the Conway NAACP, believes the state was very lenient with the charges. Calling the treatment against Smith a form of slavery, he plans to file a complaint with the Department of Justice and the Department of Labor.
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