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Oxford Comma Decides Massive Lawsuit in Maine

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To use the Oxford comma, or to not use the Oxford comma. It’s an age old question, that can lead to long arguments, and even to a decison in a lawsuit.

A Maine labor dispute was decided this week, basically becasue of the lack of an Oxford comma.

According to CNN, some Oakhurst dairy drivers thought they deserved overtime pay for certain tasks they do. The company disagreed. This week, an appeals court agreed with the drivers.

Here’s the phrase that determined the lawsuit:

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.

The question, according to the lawsuit, is packing for shipment its own activity, or does it only apply to the rest of that clause.

The following is from the ruling of United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit:

The District Court concluded that, despite the absent comma, the Maine legislature unambiguously intended for the last term in the exemption’s list of activities to identify an exempt activity in its own right. The District Court thus granted summary judgment to the dairy company, as there is no dispute that the drivers do perform that activity. But, we conclude that the exemption’s scope is actually not so clear in this regard. And because, under Maine law, ambiguities in the state’s wage and hour laws must be construed liberally in order to accomplish their remedial purpose, we adopt the drivers’ narrower reading of the exemption. We therefore reverse the grant of summary judgment and remand for further proceedings.

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