Racial-discrimination Suit Is Filed Against Qvc Two Former Hosts Allege The Home Shopping Channel Relegated Minority Hosts To Overnight Time Slots.

Posted: December 31, 1998

West Chester-based QVC, the home shopping channel, is facing a $100 million federal lawsuit filed yesterday in the Eastern District of New York by two of its former on-air sales hosts, who contend they were victims of race discrimination.

Victor Velez, a New Yorker who is Hispanic, and Gwen Owens, a Philadelphia native who is African American, said in the suit, filed as a class action, that it was QVC's practice to give minority hosts less-desirable graveyard-shift schedules, relegating them to what their New York lawyer Alan Rich called a ``time-slot ghetto.''

The plaintiffs contend that hosts of the more lucrative earlier hours - where sales can ring up at $800,000 an hour - make far better salaries than hosts whose time slots tote up sales at $8,000 an hour.

Ellen Rubin, a QVC spokeswoman, said the company would not comment on the case but rebutted allegations that minority hosts were consigned to TV's wasteland, the overnight hours.

``Our definition of prime time is a bit different than a network's definition,'' Rubin said. ``It's not only 8 to 11 p.m., but includes weekend days, Saturday and Sunday afternoon. I know they alleged that minority hosts are not scheduled during prime-time hours, and that's simply not true.''

Rubin said that recently an African American host did a prime-time, themed program on Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Rich said, however, that minority hosts only make occasional prime-time appearances.

``We're not saying that people of color never work the prime times,'' Rich said. ``Sure, if someone is sick or is out, then they'll put a minority host in there. But what we're talking about is someone being regularly scheduled for those hours.''

Rubin said that QVC has more than 20 hosts but could not say how many are minorities.

``We don't count that way,'' she said.

Rich said he had counted two minority hosts still on the air at QVC, a man and a woman; both are African American.

Velez, who has worked as an actor, is the representative plaintiff in the suit. Owens, who started at QVC in 1994 after working in TV news at several stations, including WHYY-TV (Channel 12) and WGAL-TV in Lancaster, is a member of the class of plaintiffs. Velez's contract with QVC was not renewed in December 1997 and Owens' contract was not renewed this November, Rich said.

The TV marketing giant, which calls itself ``a virtual shopping mall that never closes,'' reaches more than 70 million households in the United States and the United Kingdom and had sales of $2 billion in 1997, according to corporate information.

Velez joined QVC affiliate channel Q2 in 1995 and then moved to QVC a year later. In the suit, he says being consigned to poor time slots hurt his earning potential.

Rubin said that hosts are paid a set salary, not a commission on sales. Rich said there was a connection between sales and salary.

Velez made $80,000 a year, Rich said, while some hosts who worked the prime-time slots had salaries five to six times higher than that.

``Salaries were not public knowledge per se,'' Rich said, ``but the scuttlebutt was such that people knew that the hosts who had tenure, who had good followings, could earn in the mid- to high-six figures.''

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