A Missing Oxford Comma Costs A Maine Dairy Farm $5 Million

It’s every writer’s worst nightmare. The comma is the pause that refreshes writing, and, at times, a comma can be the difference between what you say, and what you mean on paper. In other words, the comma rules writing like Trump rules Twitter. A written piece without the right comma placement is as lame as Trump’s tweets, according to the folks that follow Oxford University Press comma rules. One Maine Dairy Farm got a dose of that lameness when company drivers filed a $10 million lawsuit concerning the state’s overtime law. The company settled the case for $5 million because one of the company’s sentences was missing a comma.

The sentence at the heart of the suit is the sentence in Maine’s overtime law that says: “The canning, freezing, processing, preserving, drying, storing, marketing, packing for shipment or distribution of agricultural produce, perishable foods and meat and fish products.”

That sentence sounds understandable enough for some people, but to the drivers, the lack of a comma after the word “shipment” created an issue in terms of overtime payment. No comma after the word “shipment” made it unclear whether packing for shipment or distribution was one activity, or packing for shipment is separate from distribution.

The five drivers who got together and fought the missing comma case will get $50,000 each. And the other drivers will get at least $100 or the amount of overtime they deserve because of the writing error, according to the Portland Press Herald.

The missing comma case does bring up another issue for the folks reading about the case. The comma after the word shipment will not change the fact that packing shipments before distribution is necessary. But the workers didn’t do any packing. It seems like the word “or” instead of “or any” is the culprit. But you would still need the comma if you’re an Oxford comma freak.

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