North America

Missing Oxford comma lands US drivers $5 million settlement

Oakhurst dairy plant in Portland. Source: Portland Press Herald

Grammar sticklers would have been delighted to see a missing Oxford comma in Maine state law landed dairy drivers a $5 million overtime payout.

US company Oakhurst Dairy has reportedly settled an overtime dispute worth $5 million with its drivers after three employees successfully sued the company over a missing comma in state law.

The case began in 2014 after three truck drivers sued the dairy company in Maine, the most northeastern US state, for four years' worth of overtime - which they claim had been denied to them after a missing Oxford comma provided uncertainty around legislation.

Maine state law claims employees shall receive time-and-a-half for each hour worked after 40 hours but exemptions include the "canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of agricultural produce; meat and fish products; and perishable foods".

But the court ruled a missing punctuation mark after "shipment" created uncertainty.

The drivers argued it was unclear if the packing for shipment or distribution of agricultural produce, meats and fish products, and perishable foods or just the distribution of the same items were exempt.

This confusion in state law saw the dairy company pay $5 million to the drivers in a settlement, court documents read, according to the New York Times.

Since the case, the law has been amended to the following: "The canning; processing; preserving; freezing; drying; marketing; storing; packing for shipment; or distributing of: Agricultural produce; Meat and fish products; and Perishable foods."

Oakhurst Dairy president John Bennet said the company was "pleased" the dispute had been "resolved to the satisfaction of all parties".

The Oxford Dictionary says the Oxford comma used before "and" or "or" in a list of three or more items can "serve to resolve ambiguity, particularly when any of the items are compound terms joined by a conjunction".