Dairy Drivers in Maine Are Celebrating a Missing Comma

Court rules in their favor in labor dispute that came down to lack of punctuation
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 16, 2017 9:03 AM CDT
Updated Mar 19, 2017 4:00 PM CDT
Drivers Win Overtime Appeal Thanks to Missing Punctuation
Oakhurst Dairy was dealt a major blow—all because of a missing comma.   (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach, File)

For instilling in us a love of language, we offer a shout-out to our English teachers, William Safire and Mary Norris. In that sentence, we're trying to thank our teachers plus those two grammar gurus. If you didn't read it that way, witness the importance of the Oxford comma. It's the punctuation mark used after the second-to-last item in a list of three or more items, and it would render the previous sentence as "our English teachers, William Safire, and Mary Norris" ... and it's often more important than people give it credit for. Among those who recently found this out, per Mashable: dairy drivers in Maine who won an appeal because of a missing Oxford comma. In the suit over overtime pay against Oakhurst Dairy, first filed in 2014, drivers complained that a list of tasks not eligible for overtime did not make it clear whether "distribution" counted, mainly because of the lack of comma.

To wit, not eligible for overtime are "the canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of" various food products. Because there was no comma after "shipment," the drivers argued that packing for shipment and distribution (a single entity revolving around packing) wasn't overtime-eligible, but that distribution without packing (what the drivers do) was. Oakhurst argued that Maine's legislation style guide nixes Oxford commas, and that "distribution" was meant to be separate, but the drivers pointed out all other separate items on the list were gerunds ending in "ing," so "distribution" didn't fit the pattern, Quartz notes. On Monday, per CNN, an appeals court decided the drivers were eligible for overtime and the suit can head back to a lower court, as labor laws are designed to benefit workers—period. (More "comma drama.")

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