A lawyer for a White male executive terminated by North Carolina-based Novant Health told Fox News the reasons behind the firing were “nonsense” after a federal jury determined the executive was let go on the basis of his race and gender.
“I think one reason that they gave the punitive damage award was just that — you just can’t fire people to achieve these sort of demographic goals,” David Duvall’s attorney, Luke Largess, told Fox News. “It’s just outrageous.”
Duvall sued Novant in 2019, arguing that the company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by firing him based on his race and gender. Novant said Duvall was fired for poor performance, but a federal jury in Charlotte sided with the former senior vice president and awarded him $10 million.
“There was just no real justification for his termination,” Largess told Fox News. “They tried to make up some concerns about the fact that he had stumbled at a speech two years before when he felt sick and that embarrassed the company.”
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“They said that he lacked engagement, but he had some of the highest engagement scores in the company,” the lawyer added. “They said he didn’t engage with his peers but in his evaluation it said that was the thing he did best.”
Duvall was hired in 2013 to run Novant’s marketing and communications program.
“He rebuilt the team,” Largess said. “Both by written and sort of verbal acclimation, everyone thought he’d done a great job.”
“I think the jury just was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,'” Largess added. “These explanations for his termination were nonsense, and they agreed.”
Novant released a statement Tuesday in response to the jury’s verdict.
“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,” the statement said. “We will pursue all legal options, including appeal, over the next several weeks and months.”
In 2015, the company’s CEO signed onto an American Hospital Association “health equity pledge,” which elevated the position of the diversity and inclusion officer, according to Largess. This new DEI officer presented a plan to increase diversity within the senior and executive leadership teams between 2016-2018, Largess said.
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“The irony is [Duvall] was on the team — executive team — that oversaw the plan, and he had no clue that they were going to turn around and start firing people just to be able to meet their goals,” the attorney told Fox News.
He noted that, at the beginning of 2018, Duvall’s boss had seven direct reports who were White men, and by the end of the year, five of them had been fired. According to the lawsuit, Duvall was replaced by two women, one Black and one White.
Largess clarified that Duvall supported Novant’s push to increase diversity among the company’s leadership but said firing people for the sole purpose of creating diversity amounted to discrimination.