A missing Oxford comma could cost this company $10 million

It used to just be a question for grammar enthusiasts to debate, pop bands to sing about and middle schoolers to worry over.


Now, it’s deciding the legal fate of a high-stakes court case.

Drivers for a Maine dairy company are seeking around $10 million in overtime pay in a class-action lawsuit. The company, Oakhurst Dairy, claims the way the current law is written, they’re exempt from Maine’s labor law requiring overtime pay.

On Monday, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit sided with the drivers, ruling that the lack of a small curved line created enough ambiguity to require Oakhurst Dairy and its parent company, Dairy Farmers of America, to pay.

For those not obsessed enough to know what the Oxford comma is off the top of their heads, it’s also called the serial comma, and it comes at the end of a list of items, just before the “and” that precedes the final thing. The Associated Press does not use it, while the Chicago Manual of Style does. For a full explainer, Grammarly breaks down the arguments for and against the serial comma.

In the case of the Oakhurst Dairy lawsuit, Maine’s labor laws require employers to pay overtime rates for anything beyond the standard 40 hours per week. However, the law does contain an exception, and that is where confusion arose.

Per the New York Times, the exception includes:

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…

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