Trucker wins lunch break wage lawsuit but gets only $35

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 4/16/2019

A truck driver for an Indiana company won his wage lawsuit after the judge decided the company should have paid for lunch breaks. However, the judge awarded the driver only $35.

Joe Lehman, a truck driver for the Postle Aluminum division of Elkhart, Ind.-based Thor Industries, won his claim against the company. According to court records, the claim was originally filed in small claims court in November in the Elkhart Superior Court.

Lehman worked for Postle driving a flatbed truck for about 1½ years at a rate of $14 per hour. Testimony by Lehman cited by court documents reveals he worked Monday through Friday. The driver claims that he never took a lunch break and that Postle never told him he had to.

To support his claim during a bench trial on March 29, Lehman, who was representing himself, submitted five driver’s daily logs to the court. None of the logs showed a lunch break or any deduction in time for a lunch break. Lehman argued he is owed the 30 minutes per day deducted from his paychecks, which he claims amounts to $3,543.

However, when the judge asked Lehman if he had any documentation supporting how he came to the amount in the claim, Lehman responded he did not.

Stating its case, Postle cited Department of Transportation regulations that stipulate drivers to take a 30-minute lunch break. Lehman’s supervisor testified that employees are informed about required lunch breaks on their first day of work.

Postle’s human resources representative also testified, stating no one is required to log their lunch breaks. However, since Lehman filed his claim, Postle now requires all drivers to log in their breaks, according to court documents.

The human resources representative did make a mistake during testimony, contradicting his point. To prove his claim that DOT regulations require drivers to take a lunch break, Postle submitted a printout from the U.S. Department of Labor website as an exhibit. However, the very first sentence of the submitted document states, “Federal law does not require lunch or coffee breaks.”

When Postle was asked by the court to cite the actual DOT regulation in question, attorneys for the company cited 29 C.F.R. Section 785.19, which states:

“Bona fide meal periods are not worktime. Bona fide meal periods do not include coffee breaks or time for snacks. These are rest periods. The employee must be completely relieved from duty for the purposes of eating regular meals. Ordinarily 30 minutes or more is long enough for a bona fide meal period. A shorter period may be long enough under special conditions. The employee is not relieved if he is required to perform any duties, whether active or inactive, while eating. For example, an office employee who is required to eat at his desk or a factory worker who is required to be at his machine is working while eating.”

The court pointed out that nowhere in the cited regulation does it mandate a lunch break. In light of the cited DOT regulation and Department of Labor handout, the court asked Postle if it had its own policy requiring lunch breaks. Attorneys for Postle had no such documentation.

Between the two parties, the court seemed annoyed at the lack of preparation on both sides.

“Both plaintiff and defendant knew that their sole opportunity to present evidence was at their bench trial,” the judge’s order states. “The court is dumbfounded as to the lack of physical evidence submitted by both parties to substantiate their claims and defenses.”

After weighting all the evidence and testimony, the court ruled in Lehman’s favor on April 2. When deciding the award, the court took half of the $14 per hour wage to determine the amount to pay out for each half-hour lunch not paid. Since Lehman provided logs only for five days, the court applied the $7 lunch rate to only those five days, arriving at a total judgment of $35 plus court fees of $125.

 

 

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