The (Lack of an) Oxford Comma Just Decided a Court Case in Maine

Photo Credit: Flickr/mrsdkrebs

Like we’ve talked about on this site before, the battle over using the Oxford comma – is it necessary for clarity, or superfluous and cluttering – will likely never come to an end.

In the case of a different battle, one between a dairy company and its delivery drivers in Maine, the Oxford comma dispute meant doling out a bunch of overtime cash. The company, Oakhurst Dairy, claimed that the drivers were exempt from overtime pay, while the employees argued that’s not what the law says (as written) at all.

Here’s what’s on the books about activities that are NOT eligible for overtime pay:

“The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing storying, packing for shipment or distribution of: agricultural produce, meat and fish product, and perishable foods.”

See the problem?

The drivers only distribute the goods, they don’t do any of those other things (which would make them exempt from overtime pay). The company argued that shipment and distribution are two different things, but without the comma, they look like one single job.

As U.S. appeals judge David Barron wrote, “For want of a comma, we have this case.”

Since all of Maine’s laws are written without the Oxford comma, this may not be the last punctuation-decided case that hits the news. One can hope, anyway.

(h/t: Mentalfloss)

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