The Importance of Punctuation

There is an old adage that the devil is in the details. A recent decision from the First Circuit Court of Appeals demonstrates that sometimes the smallest oversight can create huge problems. At issue was a wage overtime statute which exempted from the payment of overtime wages certain work, including the “packing for shipment or distribution” of certain foods. When dairy drivers were not paid overtime wages, they sued, arguing that the exemption applied only to employees who packaged food for shipment or distribution, as opposed to employees who simply distributed the packaged food as they did.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the drivers, noting that for the exemption to apply to the drivers, the statute needed to have a comma before the word distribution, thereby exempting food workers engaged in “packing for shipment, or distribution.” To the delight of English teachers everywhere, the dairy farm was required to pay overtime wages to its delivery drivers for the want of a comma.
The case is O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy.

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