Oxford Comma Settles Overtime Dispute

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Sometimes poor grammar saves the day

“Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?” Vampire Weekend might not, but a group of dairy drivers in Maine now do.

For anyone rusty on grammar, this screen shot provides a helpful reminder of the efficacy of the Oxford comma:

As for the dairy farmers, their missing (or not?) comma comes from a section on when overtime pay wouldn’t be paid out:

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 drivers for Evergreen Dairy argued that without an Oxford comma, “shipment or distribution” signified different types of packing, removing the act of distribution from the law’s jurisdiction. Previously a District Court had ruled against the drivers. Following a Circuit Court appeal reminiscent of an SAT tutoring session, judge David J. Barron ruled that once again the interests of laborers and grammarians have aligned:

At issue in this case was whether the delivery drivers for a Maine dairy company fell within the scope of an exemption from Maine’s overtime law. Specifically at issue was an exemption to the overtime law that covers employees whose work involves the “packing for shipment or distribution of” enumerated food products. The drivers argued that these words referred to the single activity of “packing,” whether the packing was for “shipment” or for “distribution.” The district court granted summary judgment to the dairy company, concluding that “distribution” was a stand-alone exempt activity. The First Circuit reversed, holding that the exemption at issue is ambiguous, and, under Maine law, must be construed in the narrow manner that the drivers favor in order to accomplish the overtime law’s remedial purposes. Remanded.

While I’m a generally a proponent of the Oxford Comma when writing fiction, light journalism, and superfluous lists, maybe this one should remain absent.

What We’ve Known All Along: Less Agreeable People Care More about Grammar

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