Oxford Comma Costs Maine Dairy Company $5 Million

When in doubt, use a comma. This is a common idea in the English language, as commas help separate nouns, verbs, adjectives and much more. An Oxford comma is a serial comma, which is placed immediately following the words “and” or “or” in a sentence when using a series of at least three ideas.

Some people believe this comma isn’t necessary, and one dairy company is finding that out the hard way. Back in 2014, the company drivers of Oakhurst Dairy, located in Maine, sued the company over a dispute in overtime payments they were receiving. The lawsuit was filed for $10 million, and involved 132 drivers in total, although the lawsuit named five specifically.

The dispute was over what types of work were eligible for overtime payments and which ones weren’t. Maine has an overtime law in the books that states “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 lawsuit was filed over a lack of a comma after the word “shipment” which currently lumps shipment and distribution under the same line. Judge David Barron explained in 2017 that the law did not clearly state if “packing for shipment or distribution” is considered a single job or if “packing for shipping” and “distribution” are considered separate. Having shipping and distribution as separate jobs entitles the company drivers to more overtime payments. A federal appeals court eventually sided with the drivers in the case,

Last week, it was revealed through court documents that Oakhurst agreed to settle the lawsuit with the drivers for a price tag of $5 million. Each of the five named drivers who filed the lawsuit were reportedly awarded $50,000 each. The other 127 drivers who worked for Oakhurst during a four year period from 2008 to 2012 would be eligible to file a claim to receive the amount of overtime the lawsuit afforded them.