Jury awards $10M to executive who says he was fired because he's a white man

David Duvall, a former top executive at North Carolina-based Novant Health, was awarded US$10 million on Tuesday by a federal jury after he filed a lawsuit claiming he lost his job because he’s a white man.

In 2013, Duvall was appointed the senior vice president of marketing and communications at the nonprofit health company, but was abruptly fired in 2018, reads his 2019 complaint.

His lawsuit accused the company of firing him in order to diversify the upper levels of leadership. The jury said Novant Health failed to prove that it would have dismissed Duvall, regardless of his race.

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Novant Health has repeatedly denied that Duvall was fired because of his race or gender, and that he was let go for reasons other than those presented at the civil jury trial.

The company released a statement following the jury’s decision:

“We are extremely disappointed with the verdict as we believe it is not supported by the evidence presented at trial, which includes our reason for Mr. Duvall’s termination. We will pursue all legal options, including appeal, over the next several weeks and months.

Novant Health is one of thousands of organizations to put in place robust diversity and inclusion programs, which we believe can co-exist alongside strong non-discriminatory policies that extend to all races and genders, including white men. It’s important for all current and future team members to know that this verdict will not change Novant Health’s steadfast commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity for all.”

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Duvall said in his lawsuit that he was fired shortly before his fifth anniversary with the company. He said he was replaced by two women, one Black and one white.

Duvall accused Novant Health of violating Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act, which prohibits race and gender discrimination in the workplace.

“We showed the jury a strategic plan that Novant adopted to implement the D&I initiative in three phases,” said Duvall’s lawyer, S. Luke Largess, in a statement to affiliate WSOC-TV. “Goal 2 of Phase 2 listed explicitly that Novant would improve diversity at the senior leader level. There was also a timeline approved by the board showing the steps to be taken from 2016 to 2018 to get there. Most of them are quite appropriate, and David was on the system committee supporting the initiative.”

“But in 2018, the timeline shows Novant using a diversity ‘lens’ to make decisions. At the start of 2018, Duvall’s boss, the Chief Consumer Officer, had seven white male direct reports. By the end of 2018, he had two,” Largess continued. “That fit the strategic plan and the timeline. Today, he has no white male direct reports. That pattern was part of the evidence.”

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Largess claims that the company created two new positions to replace Duvall, one of which was announced on the day he was terminated.

“Both women are qualified for the work… but neither was more qualified than Duvall, and there were no complaints about his performance,” he continued. “He was just fired out of the clear blue sky, and it fit hand-in-glove with the strategic plan and timeline.”

“The message is not to abandon diversity and inclusion, it’s to do it legally,” Largess said.

Novant Health says on its website that it employs more than 35,000 workers and has more than 2,300 physicians at nearly 800 locations in three states.

With files from The Associated Press

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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