Earlier this year, there was a case concerning a law in Maine. The law exempted specific items from overtime regulations. The list is:
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 was this: Is the exempt item just “canning, …, packing, and distribution of 1, 2, 3″ or is it rather “canning, …, packing for shipment or distribution (underlined as one ‘action’) of 1, 2, 3.”
The court argument when somewhat as follows. WERE an Oxford comma applied after “shipment,” THEN “distribution” would also be exempt from overtime benefit requirements. The Result would be: Those involved solely in distribution of 1, 2, 3, would not be given overtime benefits.
The LACK of an Oxford comma, so the argument went, allowed sufficient ambiguity so that those involved solely in distribution should not be exempt; that is, those in distribution should be given overtime benefits.
Protocol for writing law in Maine forbids use of Oxford comma.
IN FACT, ANOTHER GRAMMATICAL ISSUE WAS OVERLOOKED. Faulty parallelism. WERE the Law interpreted as having an implicit Oxford comma after “shipment,” the statute would suffer from faulty parallelism. All the actions governed under the law are described by participles (canning, storing, packing, etc.). But “distribution” is not a participle.
The rule of parallelism seconds the final judgment of the court that indeed those involved only in distribution should not be exempt from the law securing them overtime benefits.