Plaintiff David Duvall was hired as senior vice president of marketing and communications by Novant Health Inc., a North Carolina-based not-for-profit health system with 15 medical centers and more than 1,800 physicians, on August 5, 2013, according to the complaint.
He was fired “without prior warning” on July 30, 2018, and ordered off the Novant premises, according to the lawsuit.
As part of Novant’s severance plan, any executive who was terminated without cause would, “under normal circumstances,” receive 30 days’ notice of that decision, the complaint said.
But Duvall was terminated “without any explanation as to why that promised ‘normal circumstances’ did not apply,” according to the complaint.
The lawsuit alleged that Duvall, who was “performing at a high level and exceeding the performance expectations,” was then replaced by a White woman and a Black woman “for the express purpose of increasing gender and racial diversity among Novant executives,” which his attorney, Luke Largess, argued constituted discrimination based on sex and race.
“Defendant’s termination of Plaintiff on account of his race and sex directly violated this express public policy of the State of North Carolina. Thus, the termination of Plaintiff was wrongful and unlawful under state law,” the complaint says.
On Tuesday, a jury in the case ruled that Duvall had proven that his “race (Caucasian) and/or his sex (male) was a motivating factor in Novant Health’s decision to terminate him.”
The jury also found Novant Health had not been able to prove that it would have made the same decision regardless of Duvall’s race and/or sex, according to the complaint.
Duvall was awarded $10 million in punitive damages from Novant Health, court records show.
Megan Rivers, director of media relations at Novant Health, told CNN in an email that the health system is disappointed in the verdict and will pursue all options, including appeal.
“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,” she wrote. “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.”
Largess told CNN Duvall’s lawsuit “is not a statement against diversity and inclusion programs.”
“The jury learned that Duvall was a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion at Novant; he sat on an executive committee that supported the initiative and his team provide marketing for the program. That was one irony in his termination, his belief in Diversity and Inclusion. But such programs have to be run lawfully,” Largess said.
“We believe the punitive damages award was a message that an employer cannot terminate and replace employees simply based on their race or gender in order to achieve targets for greater diversity in the workforce. It is plainly unlawful and harmful and that was obvious to the jury,” he added.