A Maine dairy company recently learned how a comma can change everything. In O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy, it was shown that a comma can go a long way to avoid ambiguity.
In this case, a group of dairy delivery drivers sued Oakhurst, claiming the company failed to pay them overtime under Maine’s wage and hour laws.
Oakhurst argued that dairy delivery drivers are overtime-exempt under Maine’s “Exemption F.” Under Exemption F, Maine’s overtime law does not 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 outcome of this case came down to whether the drivers engaged in “packing for shipment or distribution.” The drivers argued that this phrase refers to a single activity of “packing,” whether the packing be for shipment or for distribution. Since the drivers did not pack food, the drivers reasoned, Exemption F did not apply to them. Oakhurst argued that the phrase actually refers to two different activities: “packing for shipment” and “distribution.” As the drivers clearly engaged in the distribution of food, Exemption F did apply to them.
Based on the plain language of the statute, the district court ruled in favor of Oakhurst.
However, on appeal, the First Circuit found the statute ambiguous. And with no other way to resolve the ambiguity, the First Circuit accepted the drivers’ narrower construction of the exemption and reversed the district court’s original ruling.
Federal law dictates that hourly (nonexempt) workers must be paid overtime for every hour worked over 40 hours in their work week. Regardless of these laws, some employers try to get creative and use illegal tactics to avoid paying workers overtime pay, 1.5 times their usual hourly rate.