This article should be prefaced with the fact that this is not a belated April Fool’s Day joke. No one in this industry, especially delivery drivers themselves, find disputes over payment to be a laughing matter. If anything, this article shows how a tiny mistake can turn into a lawsuit, and how important it is to pay attention to the details when writing and signing contracts.

The Suit From The Delivery Drivers

Back in 2014, three delivery drivers who had taken shipment from Oakhurst Dairy, a business located in Maine, sued for over four years of overtime, which they had not been paid. According to state law, drivers must be paid 1.5 times the regular rate after they have reached the 40 hour limit in a given work week. However, there are some exceptions.

It Comes Down To One Little Comma

As with most documents in the public sector, as list of items is separated by commas. However, also like most legislation in the public sector, the last comma is optional, and in most cases it is omitted completely. List such as “fish, beef, and poultry” are written as “fish, beef and poultry.” This may not seem like a big deal outside of elementary school and some Facebook discussions, but that lack of a comma resulted in a $10 million dollar lawsuit.

The Statement In Question

The passage that the delivery drivers pointed to was the law stating overtime pay is not applicable 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

The question the delivery drivers contested was whether overtime laws exempt the distribution of the three categories listed above, or if it meant to exempt the packing of those goods before shipping? Considering delivery drivers do not package goods, the comma – or lack thereof – the law not only creates confusion, but could potentially mean the drivers are owed a sizable chunk of overtime pay.

Winning One For Delivery Drivers And English Teachers

At the end of the day, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit sided with the delivery drivers. While the Mail Legislative Drafting Manual clearly warns against using the Oxford comma when listing items, the manual also has a caveat which states it should be used when any list or delineation of items can cause confusion or interpretation outside of the intended rule. Unfortunately for Oakhurst Dairy, that is exactly what occurred.

This ruling should serve as a warning to delivery drivers to carefully read not only shipping contracts, but the accompanying legislation before taking on shipments. Similarly, business owners and state governments should be more careful about how they words their laws and legally binding agreements, lest they lose a lot of money in the process.