Tuesday, May 4, 2021

An update on the Worst Employer of 2019

What did Bobby Edwards do to earn the title of the Worst Employer of 2019?
Bobby Edwards, the manager of J&J Cafeteria in Conway, South Carolina, effectively enslaved JCS (to whom we refer with the fictitious name "Jack"), forcing him to work at the restaurant over 100 hours per week without pay. …

In 1990, when Jack was 12 years old, he started working part-time at J&J Cafeteria as a dishwasher. He has an intellectual disability and an IQ of 70. After a few years of part-time work, Jack dropped out of high school and started working full-time at the restaurant. For the first 19 years of his employment, when the restaurant was owned and managed by different members of the Edwards family, Jack was always paid for his labor.

That, however, changed in September 2009, after Bobby Edwards took over the management of the restaurant. Edwards moved Jack into an apartment attached to the restaurant and forced him to work more than 100 hours per week without pay — usually 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. for 6 days and 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Sundays. Not only did Jack work long hours without pay, he was never given a day off. 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. His control over Jack also involved physical abuse. Once, when Jack failed to deliver fried chicken to the buffet as quickly as Edwards had demanded, Edwards dipped metal tongs into hot grease and pressed them to Jack's neck, resulting in a burn that fellow employees had to immediately treat. Other times, when Jack made supposed mistakes, Edwards whipped him with his belt, beat him with kitchen pans, and punched him with his fists. This treatment left Jack physically and psychologically scarred. Jack later said, "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."

At the time of sentencing, the judge ordered Edwards to pay Jack $272,952.96 in restitution, in addition to sentencing him to 10 years in prison. 

Last month, the court of appeals ruled that Edwards should pay liquidated damages to Jack under the FLSA in addition to the $272,952.96 of back wages. Under the FLSA, an aggrieved employee is entitled to an award of liquidated damages in an amount equal to the total amount of unpaid wages (i.e., double damages) unless the employer can show (1) that it acted in good faith; and (2) that it had reasonable grounds to believe it had complied with the FLSA. I see no way possible that Edwards could have ever hoped to have met that standard.

Thus, at the end of the day, Jack should receive a total award of $545,905.92 in restitution. Of course, how Edwards intends to make good on his substantial obligation to Jack is another story. 

Finally, my offer to Bobby Paul Edwards still stands. If the Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, North Carolina, will not allow him to collect his trophy, I’ll have it waiting for him to claim when he's released in 2029.