Sunday, May 14, 2017

"Oxford Comma" Makes the Difference in $10M Lawsuit

The so-called "Oxford Comma" is the comma after the next-to-last item and the word "and" or "or" in a series. In a simple series like "apples, peaches and pears" we've been taught to leave it out for simplicity and flow. But when the items are more complex, the comma may be absolutely necessary to preserve the proper meaning.  A current lawsuit may end up awarding $10M to a plaintiff because of linguistic sloppiness in not applying the Oxford comma when it would clarify the sentence's proper meaning.

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Link to Article:
The $10 Million Lawsuit That Hinges on the Oxford Comma

"O'CONNOR: The guy asked me, how many hours are you working this week, Chris? You know, and I said, oh, probably 60 hours this week. And he's like, oh, look at that - overtime pay. And I was like, no, I don't get overtime. I'm salary.
KING: And the guy said, well, you better not let the state of Maine find out. That's illegal. Chris looked it up. Maine state law says if you work more than 40 hours a week, you earn overtime. So he called a lawyer. Maine state law has some exceptions to the rule. There are certain people who don't make overtime, including people who ship or handle perishable goods like milk. And here is where that all-important comma comes in.
The statute says workers who do not get overtime are those involved in, quote, 'the canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment - no Oxford comma here - or distribution of perishable foods.' Chris' lawyer looked at that and thought, well, it's unclear. Is it packing for shipment or distribution, or is it packing for shipment, or distribution?
His argument - distributors like Chris aren't on that list of people who don't get overtime because there's no comma. He filed a class action suit on behalf of about 75 drivers asking for around $10 million in unpaid overtime. Last week, a judge said the punctuation of the statute is ambiguous. The suit can proceed. The dairy company didn't respond to a request for comment, but Chris' lawyer, Jeffery Young, is thrilled. And yes, he sees the humor in it.
JEFFERY YOUNG: My first boss always used to say to us, common sense ain't so common. So my summary of this case is, comma sense ain't so common.

KING: That's pretty good (laughter)."

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