Arkansas Trucking Association

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Even in trucking, punctuation matters

A recent court decision came down to a missing comma when a Maine court sided with a group of dairy truck drivers in a dispute on overtime pay.

In May 2014, a group of dairy truck drivers sued Maine-based Oakhurst Dairy for $10 million in overtime pay. Oakhurst Dairy cited a Maine law that said that certain jobs are exempt from overtime pay. Oakhurst Dairy won that lawsuit.

The truck drivers took the case to the United States Court of Appeals, disputing which tasks for which they should have received overtime compensation. In the Maine law, the tasks exempted from overtime pay are listed with each task separated by commas.

“Specifically, Exemption F states that the protection of the overtime law does not apply to:

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.”

Oakhurst Dairy said that the law meant the “packing for shipment” and “distribution” were two separate jobs — making the truck drivers ineligible for overtime pay.

However, Judge David J. Barron ultimately found that the language of the “Exemption F” portion of the law was too ambiguous without the Oxford comma (punctuation that grammar nerds know as the comma between the last two items in a list), so he sided with the truckers.

Barron ruled that without an Oxford comma after “shipment”, the actions of packing for shipment and distribution were considered all one job. Because the truckers delivered the products but were not involved in the packaging of those products per shipment, they were not covered by the exemption.

Judge Barron wrote in his decision, “For want of a comma, we have this case.”

For the record, the Arkansas Trucking Report does not use the Oxford comma unless the meaning of the sentence is unclear without it. Maine lawmakers may want to adopt such a policy.

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Arkansas Trucking Association
PO Box 3476 (72203)
1401 West Capitol Ave.
Little Rock, AR 72201

(501) 372-3462 | Phone
(501) 376-1810 | Fax

Our Mission

  • PROTECT the collective interests of trucking companies in the political and regulatory arenas.
  • PROMOTE the dynamics of trucking so that people have a better understanding of the link between America's primary freight delivery system and the standard of living they enjoy.
  • SERVE our members to help them to grow their business and their profits
You are here: Home News In Brief Even in trucking, punctuation matters