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World
17 Mar 2017

Oxford Comma fetches $10 million in US class action suit

Class Action Suit sparks debate on Oxford Comma

In a case concerning overtime payment of truck drivers, a US Court of Appeals ordered Oakhurst Dairy, Maine to pay $10 million in compensation.

The central debate in the case revolved around the absence of an oxford comma in the legislation listing exemptions for overtime.

Ruling on the matter, Circuit Judge David J Barron noted, "For want of a comma, we have this case".

In context

Class Action Suit sparks debate on Oxford Comma

The Oxford Comma

The Oxford comma or serial comma is used to demarcate the penultimate and final items in a list of three or more items. A matter of serious debate among grammar nerds, the proponents argue that it clarifies sentences, while the opponents term it a hassle.

Hanging on to a comma!

Background

Hanging on to a comma!

The lawsuit was filed in 2014 by three truck drivers against Oakhurst dairy, protesting the denial of overtime payment for four years.

The drivers who worked in distribution argued that, the state law on exemptions, applicable to "canning, processing, ... packing for shipment or distribution of" did not apply to them because a comma separating "packing for shipment" and "distribution" was not there.

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The Decision

The Comma wins!

Noting the absence of the oxford comma, Judge Barron underlined the ambiguity in the Maine legislation on overtime exemptions.

Choosing to interpret it liberally in the overall interpretation of the benefit of workers, the Court accepted the drivers' version.

In doing so, it reversed a lower court decision holding packing and distribution as separate.

The compensation amount is to be split between 75 drivers

Who cares about the Oxford Comma?

Considered common in academics, most American newspapers do not use the oxford comma, except in ambiguous sentences. The Associated Press style followed by most newspapers does not advocate for its usage, while the Chicago Manual and Oxford University Press do.

A 'punctuated' history

Similar Judgements

A 'punctuated' history

In District of Columbia vs Heller (2007), an American Court deemed the second comma in the second amendment to the Constitution, meant that Washington's ordinance against citizens right to bear arms had to be overturned.

A Canadian firm could lose $1 million after a telecom regulator judged that a comma in the project contract gave its partner company the right to pull out early.

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