Sales rep suing Nappi for discrimination felt 'singled out'
Feb. 28—During her second day on the stand, a sales representative suing her employer for gender discrimination tearfully told jurors how she felt after learning in late 2018 that her pay would be cut.
"I felt not valued," Tourangeau said. "I didn't feel appreciated and I work really hard. I felt picked on, or singled out."
When Tourangeau was hired in 2015, she became the company's first female sales representative. She was offered a 2% commission rate, while her colleagues on the sales team — all men — earned 3%. But when Nappi told Tourangeau in late 2018 that they planned to eliminate her salary, they refused to increase her commission.
Tourangeau filed a civil suit in U.S. District Court, alleging that Nappi paid her a smaller commission rate than her male colleagues because she's a woman. Tourangeau also alleged that Nappi didn't pay her for work she performed while on maternity leave, and retaliated against her when she complained.
The decision to sue was not an easy one, said Tourangeau Tuesday. She told jurors she was her family's primary source of income. She had a young daughter to support. When the company threatened to reduce her pay, she thought about quitting, but she depends on her job for health insurance and loves what she does.
"Why should I have to leave? I didn't do anything wrong," said Tourangeau, who is still on Nappi's sales team. "Why should I be the one?"
Nappi denies discriminating against Tourangeau because she was a woman. During opening statements Monday, the company's attorney John Wall said Nappi never fully eliminated Tourangeau's salary — after hearing her concerns, they agreed to gradually reduce her base salary over a year and a half but stopped when the pandemic struck in 2020.
Wall also said every sales rep hired after Tourangeau was offered the same 2% commission rate, regardless of gender, and that the representatives who were hired before Tourangeau only made 3% because they were grandfathered in.
Tourangeau's testimony stretched for several hours Monday and Tuesday. She has not yet been cross-examined by Nappi's attorneys. The trial is scheduled to end Friday but Wall has already raised concerns with U.S. District Judge John Woodcock that he can't wrap up in time.
Woodcock declined to extend the trial, saying he has a criminal case that begins next week, and also declined to place any limits on how long a witness can testify.
"You asked for five days, you got five days," said Woodcock, at one point hitting his desk with a closed fist. "Don't argue with me anymore about this. I can't do anything about this."
Quinlan said Monday she believes her client's case speaks to a larger issue of discrimination and sexism at Nappi. Helena Donovan, who filed a complaint in March 2021, is making similar allegations, saying she was subjected to harassment that got worse after she reported it. In court filings, the company has also denied Donavan's claims.
Nappi is a family-owned company based in Gorham. Its history dates back to the 1930s, when John Nappi became one of Maine's first liquor distributors following the end of prohibition. Several Nappi family members, including its president, Frank Nappi Jr., still run the company and its roughly 200 employees.
Since filing her complaints, Tourangeau testified Tuesday she's been retaliated against several times. While on medical leave for surgery in May 2019, Tourangeau said she was informed she would not be paid a commission for a large sale she helped make before taking off. She was excluded from a work-related dinner with an important company account and was told to use some of her paid time off when she needed to attend court events related to her case, when the company normally allows sales staff to have a flexible schedule.
Tourangeau said she has also had several issues getting paid through the company's incentive program, which allows sales representatives to boost their earnings by selling certain products.
Tourangeau said that before taking time off in 2016 to have her daughter, she did extra work preparing wine lists and menus. She said Mike Hale, who was the wine sales manager at the time, assured her she would receive incentive pay for this work. It wasn't until she returned to work in June that she learned she wouldn't be receiving the money after all.
Hale countered her claim Tuesday.
"When you're out on a leave of absence, you don't get paid commission," Hale testified under subpoena, adding that Nappi arranged for a sales assistant to fill in for Tourangeau while she was away. On Monday, Tourangeau said she was still working from home during that time.