- A federal jury Oct. 26 awarded a White, male former executive $10 million after concluding that his race and sex were motivating factors in Novant Health, Inc.'s decision to terminate him from his role, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- According to the original complaint, the plaintiff alleged that prior to being terminated in 2018 he had received strong evaluations from his supervisor, team and an outside consulting group. He was fired five days before what would have been his five-year anniversary, at which point he would have become eligible for a stronger compensation and benefits package, in violation of the company's 30-day termination notification policy, the complaint alleged. He was told by his supervisor that the decision "had nothing to do with Plaintiff's performance, that Plaintiff had done everything asked of him and more," according to the complaint. He was replaced by a Black female worker and White female worker.
- In its response to the complaint, Novant Health argued that the plaintiff was terminated "due to his deficient performance, including his inability to communicate effectively before a group and the delegation of the critical duties of his position to his subordinates." It denied the supervisor's comments, denied that the plaintiff had been highly rated in his performance and denied that he was terminated without warning to meet diversity goals.
While cases of discrimination against minorities and women are more commonly seen, this case serves as a reminder that all types of race- and sex-based discrimination are a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and that the law is enforced in that way.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, for example, recently filed a lawsuit alleging a hotel tolerated race-based harassment of White employees.
As employers strive to achieve equity in the workplace, there are several steps HR can take that avoid discrimination. Offering ESL classes and other specialized training, reducing bias in recruitment software and providing specialized funding for apprenticeship programs are all strategies experts have recommended.
The case is also a good reminder of the importance of keeping written or other documentation of employees' performance. Documentation can make or break an employer's defense if it finds itself defending a lawsuit, employment law attorneys say.
"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," Novant Health said in a statement it released to multiple outlets. "We will pursue all legal options, including appeal, over the next several weeks and months."