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Think commas don't matter? Omitting one cost a Maine dairy company $5 million.

by Kalhan Rosenblatt and The Associated Press /
Image: Oakhurst dairy plant in Portland
Oakhurst dairy plant in Portland on June 17, 2013.Jill Brady / Getty Images

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An absent "Oxford comma" will cost a Maine dairy company $5 million.

The suit, brought against Oakhurst Dairy by the company's drivers in 2014, sought $10 million in a dispute about overtime payment.

A federal appeals court decided to keep the drivers' lawsuit, concerning an exemption from Maine's overtime law, alive last year.

Court documents filed Thursday show that the company and the drivers settled for $5 million.

Related: Oxford Comma defenders, rejoice! Judge bases ruling on punctuation

“For want of a comma, we have this case,” U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit Judge David Barron said in March, 2017.

The sentence at the heart of the dairy drivers' case referred to Maine's overtime law and whom it doesn't apply 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 disagreement stemmed from the lack of a comma after the word "shipment."

Image: Oakhurst dairy plant in Portland
Oakhurst dairy plant in Portland on June 17, 2013.Jill Brady / Getty Images

The use of the Oxford comma — also called a serial comma — delineates the final item on a list. For example: "Milk, cheese, and yogurt."

Proponents of the punctuation argue it helps to differentiate subjects, while opponents say it’s cumbersome.

Different style guides have different rules about the Oxford comma, which gets its name because it was preferred by Oxford University Press editors.

In 2017, Judge David Barron reasoned that the law's punctuation made it unclear if "packing for shipping or distribution" is one activity or if "packing for shipping" is separate from "distribution."

The five drivers who led the lawsuit will receive $50,000 each from the settlement fund, according to the Portland Press Herald.

The other 127 drivers who are eligible to file a claim will be paid a minimum of $100 or the amount of overtime they were owed based on their work from May 2008 to August 2012, the Press Herald reported.

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