The absence of an Oxford comma in a set of rules helped decide a Maine court case about overtime pay for dairy workers, Boston Magazine reported.
The Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, is used before a conjunction like “and” or “or” when three or more items are listed in a series.
Critics say the Oxford comma is clunky and not necessary to the meaning of the sentence, while supporters believe it is vital to the meaning of a sentence.
Delivery drivers won their lawsuit against their employer, Oakhurst Dairy, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit found that the wording of Maine’s overtime rules was ambiguous.
According to state law in Maine, certain activities are not eligible for overtime pay:
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.
Oakhurst argued that “distribution of” was separate from “packing for shipment,” claiming that the company was exempt from paying its delivery drivers overtime pay. In an attempt to try to use the lawmaker’s intent as an argument in the company’s favor, Oakhurst pointed out that Maine’s legislative style guide advises against the use of an Oxford comma.
“For want of a comma, we have this case,” U.S. Appeals Judge David J. Barron wrote.
The appeals court ruled in favor of the five delivery drivers, saying that the exemption was worded ambiguously and cited the “remedial purpose” of the laws as the reason for interpreting them liberally.