Jury delivers partial verdict in case of fired QVC host

Posted: July 01, 2004

In an unusual partial verdict, a federal jury yesterday handed a limited victory to former QVC host Gwen Owens, finding that she was paid less because of her gender and awarding her back pay of $67,537.

The nine-member jury gave the larger win to the cable shopping channel, determining that QVC managers did not purposefully discriminate against Owens in her on-air assignments because she is African American, discriminate in her pay because of gender, or retaliate against her for suing them.

Had the jurors - six men and three women, including one African American - found that QVC discriminated, they could have returned significant punitive damages against the nation's largest cable retailer.

Though the jury determined that QVC had in fact violated the federal Equal Pay Act by paying Owens less than male hosts, it also found the violation was not deliberate.

Following the announcement of the verdict shortly after 2 p.m., the jury resumed deliberations on the question on which it said it had been deadlocked since Tuesday: whether QVC fired Owens in 1998 because of her race.

The jury continues deliberations this morning on the last question at the federal courthouse in Center City.

Owens, 42, a reporter at Comcast's CN8 regional cable news channel, and her attorney Alan J. Rich, appeared crestfallen about the partial verdict, which came on the jury's sixth full day of deliberations.

Rich said they would not comment while the jury is out.

Owens is one of several female and minority former QVC hosts who have sued the network, contending that its managers discriminated against minority hosts in on-air assignments and pay, and treated them as tokens to be fired when it was time for a new minority face.

QVC officials testified that Owens was fired because she did not sell enough merchandize, and that her pay and on-air assignments reflected the quality of her work.

The retaliation claim on which the jury exonerated QVC involved Owens' contention that QVC managers countered her lawsuit by intervening with Comcast, which at the time owned QVC, to ruin Owens' chances of getting a CN8 anchor job.

Owens also has a discrimination suit against Comcast pending in federal court.

Contact staff writer Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2658 or jslobodzian@phillynews.com.

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