The Oxford Comma's Day in Court

College classroom

Recently, a group of dairy workers won a court battle and were awarded overtime pay due solely to the fact that their overtime guidelines did not include an Oxford comma.

The workers wanted overtime for distribution of goods from the dairy. The guidelines governing what was NOT eligible for overtime pay read, in part:

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

  • Agricultural produce;
  • Meat and fish product; and
  • Perishable foods

Since no comma was used in between the phrases "packing for shipment" and "or distribution of:" it was determined by the court that "packing for shipment or distribution of:" was indeed one single item in the list of items for which overtime would not be granted. Distribution as a stand-alone act, however, was not included and, therefore, the dairy workers won their case – not to mention a bit of overtime.

While the court has now taken a stand on the Oxford comma, academics, journalists, and members of the wider grammarian community are still passionately undecided.

PEG®, MI's automated essay scoring engine used in our suite of writing practice programs, refrains from scoring the presence or absence of an Oxford comma, since no official common ground has been reached across the board. This provides teachers the flexibility to align their own instructional design and review process to the opinion they hold most dear – whether they be for, against, or ambivalent about the Oxford comma. (See what we did there?)

Where do you stand on the Oxford comma? Take our survey and let us know!