Court ruling hinging on comma ignites grammarian style war

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — It all came down to a missing comma. In the end, a court allowed drivers for a Maine dairy to go forward with their dispute over overtime pay.

Drivers for Oakhurst Dairy in Portland sued in federal court seeking more than $10 million in overtime. But the company argued they were exempt under the law.

Maine law says overtime doesn’t apply to certain duties and lists them, including “packing for shipment or distribution of” foods.

There’s no Oxford, or serial, comma in the phrase so the drivers said it refers to packing only, which they don’t do. But Oakhurst said it refers to packing and to distribution.

The federal appeals court agreed with the drivers.

As Circuit Judge David Barron explained: “For want of a comma, we have this case.”

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