The Last Word: An Expensive Dispute About Serial Commas

The lack of a serial comma cost an employer in Maine millions of dollars in unexpected overtime pay last year. A Maine statute denied overtime pay to employees who work in the “canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution” of certain food or agricultural products. 26 Me. Rev. Stat. § 664(3)(F). In O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy, 851 F.3d 69 (1st Cir. 2017), the federal appellate court could have interpreted the Maine statute in two possible ways. The court stretched to choose the interpretation that would give employees more money—the court’s view of the statutory purpose. One might describe that result as goal-oriented.

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