Former Novant Health executive wins $10 million in discrimination case

CHARLOTTE — A former top executive in a North Carolina-based health care system who claimed in a lawsuit that he lost his job because he is a white male was awarded $10 million by a federal jury on Tuesday.

In his 2019 lawsuit, David Duvall said he lost his job as senior vice president of marketing and communication at Novant Health due to efforts to diversify top leadership positions. The jury said Novant Health failed to prove that it would have dismissed Duvall regardless of his race.

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A Novant Health spokesperson sent Channel 9 the following statement:

“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.”

Duvall said in his lawsuit that he was fired in 2018 without warning or explanation shortly before his fifth anniversary with the company. He said he was replaced by two women, one Black and one white. Duvall, who worked in Mecklenburg County, accused Novant of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits race and gender discrimination in the workplace.

An attorney for Duvall, S. Luke Largess, sent Channel 9 the following:

“We showed the jury a strategic plan that Novant adopted to implement the D&I initiative in three phases. 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. That fit the strategic plan and the timeline. Today, he has no white male direct reports. That pattern was part of the evidence.

“Novant created two new positions to replace Duvall -- one woman, a long-time employee was promoted from VP of PR and Communications under Duvall to SVP in that same role. That was announced the day of his termination.

“Novant also created an SVP for Marketing role. It took 10 months to replace Duvall, and the three finalists were all black females.

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

Jennifer Davis has been consulting on race and diversity in the workplace for decades.

She said companies must be up front about how and why they’re diversifying while sending a clear and consistent message.

“I think you have to be very intentional about what you’re doing and again, it’s about communication, communication, communication.”

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.

(Watch the video below: Novant Health works to fill in positions)