$10M awarded to former Novant Health employee in discrimination case reduced to $300K; millions in front, back pay awarded, judge orders

Following the jury verdict, both sides were directed by the court to file post-trial motions, which were heard during a May 24 hearing.
Published: Aug. 15, 2022 at 9:38 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) – The damages awarded to a former Novant Health executive after he claimed in a lawsuit that he was fired because he’s a white man were reduced by millions of dollars, while more than $3 million in front and back pay was granted.

In October 2021, a federal jury awarded plaintiff David Duvall $10 million in punitive damages as a result of his suit, first filed in November 2019.

Related: Federal jury awards $10M to former Novant Health employee in discrimination case

Following the jury verdict, both sides were directed by the court to file post-trial motions, which were heard during a May 24 hearing.

One of Novant Health’s motions was to set aside punitive damages. According to court documents, the defendant argued that Duvall’s claim for punitive damages under North Carolina law fails because he is not seeking compensatory damages and did not request an applicable jury instruction.

U.S. Magistrate Judge David Cayer ultimately ruled the plaintiff could not collect punitive damages under state law, and that the amount under applicable federal law must be reduced to a $300,000 cap under Title VII.

In response, Novant Health officials said the reduction of punitive damages by $9.7 million is “a significant step in the right direction.”

“Novant Health stands by its diversity and inclusion program,” a statement from the health care provider read in part. “As David Duvall conceded under oath at trial, our DEI program was properly implemented during the time of his employment. As such, we believe that an appeal is warranted, and that our interests will be further vindicated as a result.”

Read the full court order here.

The judge also took up post-trial motions regarding front and back pay for the plaintiff.

Court documents state Duvall sought and accepted a better-paying job at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit as its chief marketing, communications and experience officer in April 2019. He made his first contacts in that search in September 2018, less than 60 days after he was terminated from Novant Health.

The plaintiff testified he was fired by HFHS weeks after the CEO learned that he had sued Novant Health, according to court records.

Duvall also told the jury that he’d talked to three executive recruiters for comparable opportunities at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, the Ohio State Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio, and a large hospital system in Westchester County, N.Y., the judge’s order states.

Each recruiter reportedly ceased communications with the plaintiff after learning of the lawsuit and his short tenure with HFHS.

The court ordered that Duvall be awarded backpay damages of $2.3 million, as well as pre-judgment interest thereon at a rate of 8%, according to the order. Additionally, over $1 million in front pay damages was awarded to the plaintiff.

According to court documents, Duvall was dismissed from the North Carolina-based Novant Health, where he served as senior vice president of marketing and communications, on July 30, 2018.

The plaintiff claimed that he and other “white male leaders were dismissed from employment without warning and replaced by women and/or minorities,” court documents state.

Duvall said he was terminated six days before his fifth work anniversary, avoiding a claim for 18 months’ severance promised him when he was hired.

He claimed in the suit that his firing stemmed from a 2015 commitment Novant Health signed onto, along with other health systems nationwide, to address health care inequities.

“That goal spurred a new commitment to a moribund diversity and inclusion (”D&I”) effort – an initiative at Novant Health that by 2018 had turned into avowed ‘strategic imperative’ to use racial and gender targets to reshape Novant Health’s workforce and leadership to reflect the community it served,” the plaintiff’s revised trial brief stated.

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