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Missing Oxford Comma Helps Dairy Drivers Win Labor Dispute

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Companies take note - punctuation does matter. A group of truck drivers will be paid about $10 million in overtime by a dairy company, thanks to an Oxford comma, or rather, lack of it.

A U.S. court of appeals sided with the group of truck drivers in their class-action suit against their employer, Oakhurst Dairy in Maine, as the lack of a comma in Maine's overtime laws made the regulations too ambiguous.

The Oxford comma is used before the words "and" or "or" in a list of three or more items. Also known as the serial comma, its supporters say it helps resolve ambiguity, while its opponents feel the extra comma is unnecessary.

According to Maine's laws, the following activities do not qualify 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."

The delivery drivers argued that the lack of a comma between "packing for shipment" and "or distribution" meant that the law applied only to the single activity of "packing," not to "packing" and "distribution" as two separate activities.

According to the drivers, since they only distribute the goods and do not pack them, they are eligible for overtime pay.

A district court had earlier ruled in favor of the daily company.

But Circuit Judge David Barron overturned the ruling, writing, "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."

However, Oakhurst Dairy is likely to appeal the ruling.

by RTT Staff Writer

For comments and feedback: editorial@rttnews.com

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