Lawsuit Alleges Pattern of Racism at QVC

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Two hosts who were recently fired by QVC Inc. filed a class action suit alleging their dismissal was racially motivated.


Former on-screen host Victor Velez, who is of Hispanic origin, filed a $100 million claim in redress and punitive charges against the shopping channel in West Chester, PA. A former African American host, Gwen Owens, was in the process of joining the class action suit against QVC last month.


"QVC's treatment of Velez is part of a continuous course of discrimination against him and others similarly situated based on his national origin, race and color," the complaint alleges, "and is a part of what has been a systematic and pervasive pattern of discrimination against darker-skinned peoples."


An attorney representing the former hosts said they were fired on the grounds that they were not producing enough sales, in spite of having received excellent progress reports. The hosts allege that they were not given opportunity to improve their sales because they were relegated to late-night time periods "with the least desirable merchandise."


"QVC never gave a reason for firing Victor," said attorney Alan J. Rich. "From the moment he came to QVC, he was being told he was doing a great job and given raises, but he never advanced out of the graveyard shift and then they terminated his contract." Velez's contract was not renewed in December 1997, while Owens's contract expired in November.


"Like most other on-air minority hosts, [Velez] was kept for a very short time, until such a time his contract was not renewed," the complaint alleges.


Velez was hired from Q2, QVC's troubled sister network that was launched as a "best of QVC," but did not meet expectations and was shuttered. Despite receiving positive progress reports, his contract was not renewed. His attorney obtained a "right to sue" letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after he was fired.


"I had told [QVC's] attorney that I filed a complaint through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission a year ago and that turned into a series of open negotiations with them," Rich said. "At the time they were fired, we tried to point out their promotion practices of promoting white people ahead of people of color."


A year later, Owens' contract was not renewed under similar circumstances. Rich said Owens started at QVC and was a successful host, but two years into her tenure, she was asked to move to Q2 on the condition that she could return to her position at QVC if Q2 did not work out. When Q2 bombed, she returned to QVC and was relegated to the graveyard shift.


"Never in her wildest dreams did she expect that to happen," he said. "When she did return, from that moment on, life for her was made miserable. The whole thing is bogus, they [QVC] even came right out and said, 'Why don't you make it easier for us and just quit?'."


Rich filed a charge with the EEOC on behalf of Owens, who was awaiting a right to sue letter at press time. In the event she gets it, she will then be officially part of the class.


QVC would not comment on the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of Owens and Velez.


"It is our policy not to comment on pending litigation," said Ellen Rubin, a spokesperson for QVC. "Our lawyers were given notice that we were being sued."


In his suit, Rich also questions the criteria for QVC's promotion practices. He alleges that QVC has not had a minority host for a full year in the network's 12 years of operation.


"QVC is living in the wrong century," he said. "They have not evolved enough to realize that people are to be treated equally."


Rubin would not comment on how many minority hosts are employed by QVC, nor would she say what day parts they have worked in.


"We don't calculate that kind of stuff and haven't really looked into it," she said. "Our hosts are rotated into every day part."


If QVC does not settle with Velez and Owens, then the suit will be heard in court in a civil trial. No date has been set.


"I am really looking forward to discovery," said Rich. "I keep asking them how many people of color they have and they keep telling me they are researching it. How do they not know? This is a miserable little game they are playing."


The suit against QVC follows a suit against Home Shopping Network by former on-air host Mel Arthur, who sued the company for age discrimination following his dismissal two years ago. That case was in arbitration with an expected decision this month.
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