Three additional plaintiffs are expected to join an existing class action suit filed last year against QVC Inc., West Chester, PA, by two former on-air personalities who claim racial motivation was behind their dismissal.
“There are additional plaintiffs who have come to us as a consequence of finding out about this lawsuit who are minorities, who are African American and Hispanic,” said Alan J. Rich, attorney for fired QVC hosts Victor Velez and Gwen Owens, “[They] believe that exactly the same thing was done to them that was done to Gwen and to Victor.”
Velez and Owens claim QVC fired them under the guise of not meeting sales quotas, despite previous excellent reviews by company management. The two also allege they were never given an adequate opportunity to increase their overall sales numbers prior to being removed from their positions.
Rich obtained a “right to sue” letter for Velez from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shortly after he was fired from QVC. A right to sue letter for Owens has yet to be received from the commission, but Rich said he is “presuming to have that letter shortly.”
The suit, which Owens is a class member of, alleged that QVC’s treatment of Velez was and remains “part of a continuous course of discrimination against him and others similarly situated based on [their] national origin, race and color.”
The suit also claimed that such policies have been part of “a systematic and pervasive pattern of discrimination against darker skinned peoples including Hispanics and African-Americans at QVC.”
Rich suggested there is more to the story than meets the eye, with the company making assumptions about “who a viewer will buy from.” He cited two other people of color currently on air at QVC who, according to Rich, never appear regularly in prime time viewing hours.
“This is not a case about money,” Rich said. “It’s all about equal opportunity. There have to be changes in practices at QVC.”
Legal analysts say any assumptions made by shopping channels about who a viewer will buy from can be a tenuous defense in court for firing on-air talent. Such cases are known as customer preference suits and usually prove risky if they go to trial.
“There are a couple of cases I’m familiar with that involved the broadcast news industry,” said attorney Richard J. Hafets, chairman of the Labor and Employment Practice Group at Piper & Marbury LLP., Baltimore, MD. “The fired individuals made the claim that they were fired for not meeting what the station said were its [goals for] viewership.”
In another case, Hafets stated that a a popular on-air broadcaster in Baltimore sued after being fired from a television station based on local consumer survey data reflecting what kind of newscaster its viewers most identified with.
Both of those cases were settled out of court, but Hafets said customer preference cases go back many years.
“In the 60’s and 70’s the airlines were challenged as to whether or not they could only hire female stewards,” Hafets said. Ultimately though, he added, “enhancing business is not an excuse for discrimination.”
Calls to QVC regarding the matter were not returned by press time.