For nearly five years, David Duvall served as a top marketing executive for a North Carolina health care system—until he says he was abruptly fired in the summer of 2018, over what he claims was a move to diversify top staff. Duvall sued, and on Tuesday, a federal jury in Charlotte awarded him $10 million in punitive damages in the case, ruling in favor of his wrongful termination suit and agreeing that the fact he was a white male was a "motivating factor" in his firing, reports CNN.
Per his complaint, Duvall says he was hired in August 2013 as senior VP of marketing and communications for Novant Health, a North Carolina-based hospital system with 15 medical centers and more than 1,800 doctors spread across four states. Despite "performing at a high level and exceeding the performance expectations," Duvall says he was fired "without prior warning" on July 30, 2018, and made to immediately leave his work site—a divergence from the standard 30 days employees fired without cause were typically given at Novant, according to his suit.
Duvall notes in his complaint that a white woman and a Black woman took over his role at Novant in what he says was a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bars employment discrimination based on gender or race, notes the Winston-Salem Journal. His firing was "part of an intentional campaign to promote diversity in its management ranks," his suit notes, per NBC News. Novant, for its part, says Duvall's termination simply came about because he lacked the proper leadership skills, noting that Duvall himself conceded in a deposition that he didn't think discrimination was the reason he was fired, according to court papers.
Duvall's complaint wasn't "a statement against diversity and inclusion programs," his lawyer, Luke Largess says, noting that his client was part of an executive panel that supported such initiatives, per CNN. Instead, the $10 million payout was "a message" that Novant's move was "plainly unlawful and harmful," and that "an employer cannot terminate and replace employees simply based on their race or gender" for diversity's sake. Largess also notes that Duvall believes he was fired just ahead of his fifth anniversary with Novant, when he would have been entitled to a greater severance package. In a statement Tuesday, Novant says it's "extremely disappointed" in the ruling and that it will appeal. (Read more reverse discrimination stories.)