Missing Oxford Comma Means Court Victory for Dairy Drivers

By:
Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Feb 12, 2018
OxfordComma

A Portland, Maine-based dairy company has agreed to a $5 million settlement with its drivers, ending a months-long court battle that hinged upon an absent comma in the relevant law, according to the New York Times. More specifically, the dispute centered around whether or not the drivers were exempted from state overtime rules. The law as it was written at the time had carved out an exception for those involved in:  

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods.

Of course, this then led to the question of whether the law meant for "packing for shipment" and "distribution" to be separate concepts, or whether it meant "packing for shipment or distribution" as a single concept. If there had been a comma, then it would have been clear that the exception applied to the drivers, who therefore would not have been eligible for overtime. Without a comma, though, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit determined that the wording was ambiguous and so sided with the drivers, thus prompting the settlement. 

The Maine legislature has since edited the relevant law in order to be clear in what it meant, though it opted to use semicolons versus commas to do so. It now reads: 

The canning; processing; preserving; freezing; drying; marketing; storing; packing for shipment; or distributing of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods.

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