An Oxford comma is the comma used after the second-to-last item in a list of three or more things, “item A, item B, and item C.” It’s not often used in journalism.
The drivers’ employer had claimed they were exempt from overtime pay, according to Maine’s labor laws.
Part of the law exempts certain tasks from receiving overtime compensation. This is what the law’s guidelines originally stated about exempted tasks:
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.
Without the Oxford comma, the line “packing for shipment or distribution,” could be referring to packing and shipping as a single act, or as two separate tasks.
The drivers argued that it reads as a single act, and since they didn’t actually do any packing, they shouldn’t have been exempt from overtime pay.
“Specifically, if that [list of exemptions] used a serial comma to mark off the last of the activities that it lists, then the exemption would clearly encompass an activity that the drivers perform,” the circuit judge wrote.
According to court documents, the dairy, while denying any wrongdoing, believed further litigation would be protracted and expensive. The proposed settlement will be considered by a federal judge.
To prevent anymore Oxford comma drama, the Maine Legislature has since edited
this exemption, replacing the punctuation with semicolons.