Lawsuit filed on behalf of mentally challenged worker alleges slavery at Conway restaurant

Published: Nov. 16, 2015 at 9:40 PM EST
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HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – McLeod Law Group and David Aylor Law Offices filed a 14-count lawsuit including acts of slavery on Monday, November 16, on behalf of Christopher Smith, a mentally handicapped African American male, who claims he was physically and mentally abused for many years as an employee and tenant of J&J Cafeteria in Conway, SC.

The fourteen causes of action included slavery, race discrimination, disability discrimination, violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, violation of the South Carolina Payment of Wages Act, negligence, negligent hiring and supervision, assault and battery, false imprisonment, "outrage"/intentional infliction of emotional distress, conversion, fraudulent misrepresentation, and respondeat superior, according to the federal Complaint.

The news release from MLG states Smith was allegedly employed by J&J Cafeteria for 23 years and during at least the last five was forced to work 18 hour shifts, six days a week with an 11 hour shift on Sundays. It claims he was not paid for his service nor allowed work breaks or time off and deprived of any benefits. Instead, J&J Cafeteria "maintained" a bank account for Smith to which he was never given access. The release indicates Smith was purportedly kept from his family and forced to live in sub-human conditions in a cockroach-infested apartment directly behind the cafeteria which was owned by J&J Cafeteria.

The Complaint alleges the physical, emotional and mental abuse began in 2010 and continued until the day Smith was rescued by South Carolina Department of Social Services on October 10, 2014. Supposedly Smith was continually threatened with severe physical harm if he were to report any abuse to the authorities. He was hit in the head with a frying pan, burned and beaten regularly with kitchen tools, belt-buckles and fists while subjected to being called the "N" word repeatedly, the Complaint states. The Complaint displays he would be heard being beaten in the freezer, cold locker, back office and other parts of the restaurant screaming for his life.

"The family and I are grateful DSS intervened and rescued Christopher. We are committed to securing justice for Christopher. Based upon the facts as we know them, the conduct in this case is as troubling as anything I have seen in almost 20 years of practicing law," stated Attorney W. Mullins McLeod, Jr., Smith's representative.

On October 10, 2014, Conway Police Officers responded to J&J Cafeteria in reference to a Department of Social Services escort. Police officers met with the complaining DSS representatives who stated they had received a concerned citizen's report from the South Carolina Governor's Office that a vulnerable adult was being abused at J&J Cafeteria. DSS representatives confirmed the abuse and viewed scars on Smith's back inflicted by Defendant Bobby Edwards. Smith was rescued from Defendants at that time and placed in Adult Protective Services with the Department of Social Services. Defendant Bobby Edwards was charged with assault and battery, according to the release.

After the lawsuit was filed, Attorney David Aylor, whose office first met with Smith stated, "We will fight for justice for Christopher and are sending a message that we will not sit idly by while one of our own is forced to endure such outrageous abuse. This lawsuit cannot change the past but hopefully it will bring about positive change in the future."

The Complaint is filed in the Florence Division of South Carolina District Court and demands a jury trial against Bobby Edwards, the alleged abuser; Ernest Edwards, the owner of J&J Cafeteria; and Half Moon Foods, Inc.

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