GOSHEN — An Elkhart man has won his claim against Thor in a wage dispute, though he was awarded only a fraction of what he wanted.
Joe Lehman represented himself during a bench trial on March 29, when a court magistrate heard arguments in his small claims suit against the Postle Aluminum division of Thor Industries, which he made in November. Lehman was seeking $3,543 in wages he said the company owed him for lunch breaks he didn’t take when he worked as a flatbed truck driver for about a year and a half.
In an April 2 decision, Magistrate Eric Ditton found in Lehman’s favor, though he granted a judgement of only $35 against Thor plus $125 in court costs. Ditton expressed frustration that the two sides didn’t arm themselves with more evidence for the hearing.
“When a court is called upon to settle a dispute, the court, being the finder of fact and law, is only able to base its decision on the evidence provided to it by the litigants,” he wrote. “This case illustrates the difficulties placed on the court when both litigants perform a less-than-adequate job of presenting sufficient evidence and testimony to support their respective claims.”
He noted that witnesses who spoke on behalf of Thor weren’t able to provide a written rule stating employees had to take a lunch break. He said they “(came) to court empty-handed” while a witness at one point “mentioned that perhaps the evidence exists at his office.”
Lehman didn’t present documentation either to support his $3,543 claim, except for five daily driving logs. Based on those logs, Ditton calculated that Thor owed him $7 for each half-hour break period that Lehman worked through during those five days.
Ditton also turned down a number of court filings Lehman and Thor made after the bench trial. Those included a motion for triple damages from Lehman and an explanation for how he calculated his wage claim, and a supplement from Thor on mandatory breaks.
“At the bench trial, (Lehman) failed to even inform the court of his dates of employment or provide any written documentation supporting his damages,” Ditton wrote in an order Monday denying the recent filings. “The court now repeats: the court will not entertain further submissions of evidence in this matter. ... Plaintiff and defendant knew that their sole opportunity to present evidence was at their bench trial.”