A federal jury in Charlotte awarded a former top executive with Novant Health Inc. $10 million on Tuesday after he claimed in a lawsuit that he was fired from his job because he is a white male, court records show.
David Duvall, who lives in Michigan, said in his 2019 lawsuit that he lost his job as senior vice president of marketing and communication in July 2018 at Novant Health because of the company’s efforts to diversify many of its top leadership positions.
The jury said that Duvall proved that his race and gender were motivating factors in Novant Health’s decision to terminate him, according to the jury’s verdict form. The jury also indicated that Novant Health failed to prove that it would have dismissed Duvall regardless of his race.
“We are pleased that the jury agreed that Duvall’s race and gender were unlawful factors in his termination — that he was fired to make room for more diverse leaders at Novant,” S. Luke Largess of Charlotte, Duvall’s attorney, said Tuesday night in a statement.
“Duvall was a strong advocate of diversity at Novant,” Largess said. “We believe the punitive damages award is a message that an employer cannot terminate and replace employees in order to achieve greater diversity in the workforce.”
In court papers, Novant Health said that Duvall was fired because he had poor leadership skills, and that Duvall admitted in a deposition that he didn’t think that he was being discriminated against during his employment with Novant Health.
Novant Health, whose headquarters is in Winston-Salem. also issued a statement Tuesday night regarding the case.
“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,” said Megan Rivers, a Novant Health spokeswoman. “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,” Rivers said. “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.”
In his lawsuit, Duvall said he was fired three years ago without warning or explanation shortly before his fifth anniversary with the company. Duvall was replaced by two women, one Black and one white, according to the lawsuit.
Duvall, who worked in Charlotte, accused Novant Health of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits race and gender discrimination in the workplace.
“Defendant’s (Novant Health’s) termination of (Duvall) for the purpose of improving diversity constituted discrimination based on sex and race,” the lawsuit said.
Novant Health employs more than 35,000 workers and has more than 2,300 doctors at nearly 800 locations in three states, according to its website. The company serves more than 6 million patients annually.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.