Nappi Distributors, at 615 Main St., Gorham. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

A 10-member jury has ruled that one of Maine’s largest beer and wine distributors did not discriminate against a female sales representative who sued the company more than three years ago for gender discrimination.

Michele Tourangeau filed a civil complaint against Nappi Distributors in January 2020, alleging that the Gorham company paid her a smaller commission than 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 for filing a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission, which notified her in October 2019 that she had a right to sue.

But Nappi has maintained that the company’s decision in 2015 to hire Tourangeau at a 2% commission rate had nothing to do with gender. Rather, Nappi said, it was an effort to address overhead costs and inconsistent earnings throughout the company of 200 employees. When Tourangeau started, the other wine sales representatives – all men – had been grandfathered into a 3% commission rate because of their years of experience with the company.

The jurors, seven men and three women, had to consider a number of claims in Tourangeau’s complex case. At the end of the day, the panel found that Tourangeau didn’t prove she made less than any male employees engaged in the same type of work. Tourangeau failed to prove that her sex, or her pregnancy in 2016, were deciding factors in any adverse action taken against her, and jurors did not believe her allegations that Nappi failed to pay her for work she completed while she was on maternity leave.

Attorneys for Nappi and the company’s human resources director, Christine Fox, did not comment on the verdict when they were asked for a reaction while leaving the courtroom Friday night.

Meanwhile, Tourangeau, who still works for the company, said it’s “back to work Monday” for her.


Her attorneys said they were very disappointed.

“I’ve never believed in a case so much before,” attorney Danielle Quinlan said.

Attorney Laura White said she hoped the Nappi representatives who attended the trial throughout the week listened to the testimony.

Tourangeau was Nappi’s first female sales representative when the company hired her in 2015. Since then, the sales team has hired several more women.

Throughout the trial, both attorneys argued that Nappi has spent years fostering a hostile work environment for women that underlines a “retaliatory animus of women in this workplace.”

Tourangeau’s experiences – including alleged instances of retaliation for filing her complaints – were just an example of concerns other women at Nappi had raised in the past, the attorneys said.


But various Nappi officials who featured prominently in Tourangeau’s complaint, including Fox and company President Frank Nappi Jr., vehemently denied any sexism in their workplace.

Fox said in an August 2020 deposition that she was surprised at the way Tourangeau “distorted” a December 2017 meeting over her car.

Tourangeau thought the meeting was retaliation for asking Fox to pay her for work Tourangeau did while she was on maternity leave in the summer of 2016. But Fox told attorneys she had been trying for weeks to meet with Tourangeau about damage to the passenger side of Tourangeau’s car.

Fox said Tourangeau became “combative” and began crying while filling out the accident report, acknowledging that she had been crying more lately.

Fox said she suggested Tourangeau talk with a primary care provider, based on her own experience with similar issues. When Fox later heard that Tourangeau was telling people that Fox made her cry, she called the allegations “distorted and shocking.”

“I think we’re all trying to figure out why she feels this way because she’s quite successful here and it’s – it’s just kind of an odd situation, you know, to have a fairly high-performing employee feel so strongly that she’s been wronged by us. I think we’re all scratching our heads with that,” Fox said.


During Tourangeau’s trial, her attorneys asked Fox questions about another former Nappi employee, also suing the company for discrimination, unequal pay and retaliation.

Helena Donovan filed her complaint against Nappi in March 2021. While Tourangeau still serves the same sales route she started with in January 2015, Donovan left her position as a purchasing agent in October 2019.

Attorneys are still filing documents in response to a motion by Nappi for summary judgment, through which U.S. District Judge John Woodcock would have to find the questions raised in Donovan’s complaints don’t merit a jury trial.

Woodcock, presiding over both cases, ruled in favor of allowing Tourangeau’s case to proceed to trial in November.

Quinlan and White said they will still work on that case the same, regardless of Tourangeau’s verdict.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.