How Much Does a Missing Comma Cost? For One Dairy in Maine, $5 Million

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iStock

Copy editors aren’t the only ones who should respect the value of the Oxford comma. Since 2014, a dairy company in Portland, Maine has been embroiled in a lawsuit whose success or failure hinged on the lack of an Oxford comma in state law. The suit is finally over, as The New York Times reports, and die-hard Oxford comma-lovers won (as did the delivery drivers who brought the suit).

The drivers’ class action lawsuit claimed that Oakhurst Dairy owed them years in back pay for overtime that the company argues they did not qualify for under state law. The law reads that employees in the following fields do not qualify for the time-and-a-half overtime pay that other workers are eligible for if they work more than 40 hours a week:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish product; and

(3) Perishable foods

Notice that it says the “packing for shipment or distribution” and not “packing for shipment, or distribution of.” This raised a legal question: Should dairy distributors get overtime if they didn’t pack and distribute the product?

The case eventually made its way to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which ruled that the lack of comma made the law ambiguous enough to qualify the drivers for their overtime pay, overturning the lower court’s verdict that the state legislature clearly intended for distribution to be part of the exemption list on its own.

In early February, the company agreed to pay $5 million to the drivers, ending the lawsuit—and, sadly, preventing us from ever hearing the Supreme Court’s opinions on the Oxford comma.

Future delivery drivers for the dairy won’t be so lucky. Since the comma kerfuffle began, the Maine legislature has rewritten the statute. Instead of embracing the Oxford comma, though—as we at Mental Floss would recommend—lawmakers decided to double down on their semicolons. It now reads:

The canning; processing; preserving; freezing; drying; marketing; storing; packing for shipment; or distributing of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods.

Come on, guys. What do you have against the serial comma?

[h/t The New York Times]

America's Divorce Rate is Declining—and We Have Millennials to Thank for It

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iStock/Jason_Lee_Hughes

Millennials are reportedly killing off yet another cultural mainstay, but this time, it may be a good thing. According to Bloomberg, divorce rates are going down, thanks to the commitment powers of younger generations.

Between 2008 and 2016, the divorce rate in the U.S. dropped by 18 percent, according to a new analysis of data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Controlling for related factors like age (older people are less likely to get divorced than younger couples), the rate still dropped by 8 percent. By contrast, Baby Boomers have consistently divorced at higher rates than previous generations.

Many declines that Millennials are blamed for—like rates of homeownership or having kids—can actually be attributed to the dismal finances of a generation that came of age in a recession, is saddled with crushing student debt, and faces high costs of living and low wage growth. Divorces can be expensive, too. Yet several trends point to a higher likelihood of marriage stability for the Millennial generation that has nothing to do with finances. On average, Millennials are marrying later in life, and spending more time dating partners prior to marriage than earlier generations, both of which correlate with a lower chance of divorce, according to social scientists.

“The U.S. is progressing toward a system in which marriage is rarer, and more stable, than it was in the past,” author Philip Cohen writes in the paper.

Sorry, law school students, but it looks like being a divorce lawyer is going to get a little less lucrative in the future.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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