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White clinic exec files wrongful termination suit after being replaced by diversity hires, wins

David Duvall, formerly employed by Novant Health, was awarded a $10 million payout for punitive damages.

White clinic exec files wrongful termination suit after being replaced by diversity hires, wins
Image Source: NovantHealth/Twitter

David Duvall, a white executive hired as senior vice president of marketing and communications by Novant Health Inc. in August 2013, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit as he claimed he was replaced by two "diversity hires." The North Carolina-based not-for-profit health system, with 15 medical centers and more than 1,800 physicians, fired him in 2018 and hired in his place a Black woman and a white woman. The move was part of a push for greater diversity and inclusion. Last week, the plaintiff won the lawsuit against his former employer and was awarded a $10 million payout for punitive damages, CNN reports.


According to court documents, Duvall was "without prior warning" and ordered to move out of the Novant premises. The hospital's severance plan includes 30 days' notice for any executive terminated without cause "under normal circumstances." However, he was fired "without any explanation as to why that promised 'normal circumstances' did not apply," the complaint reads. The lawsuit also alleges that the plaintiff was "performing at a high level and exceeding the performance expectations" before he was terminated and replaced by a white woman and a Black woman for "the express purpose of increasing gender and racial diversity among Novant executives."


Duvall's attorney, Luke Largess, argued constituted discrimination based on sex and race. The complaint states, "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." On Tuesday last week, a jury agreed that his "race (Caucasian) and/or his sex (male) was a motivating factor in Novant Health's decision to terminate him." Furthermore, the jury confirmed that Novant Health had not been able to prove that the hospital would have made the same decision regardless of Duvall's race and/or sex.


Megan Rivers, director of media relations at Novant Health, claimed the hospital was disappointed with the verdict and will thus be pursuing all options, including an 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 in an email to CNN. "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, nonetheless, noted that his client's lawsuit was "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 [provided] marketing for the program," he shared. "That was one irony in his termination, his belief in diversity and inclusion. But such programs have to be run lawfully. 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."


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