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Former hosts at QVC file bias suit

Two former QVC hosts sued the home shopping channel, saying it discriminated against minority hosts by relegating them to less-desirable overnight shifts and paying them less.

Victor Velez, who is Hispanic, and Gwen Owens, who is black, are seeking $100-million in damages in the suit filed Wednesday in federal court in New York.

The pair said that hosts in prime-time hours, when sales can total $800,000 an hour, have higher salaries than hosts during less popular time slots, when sales may total only $8,000 an hour.

Ellen Rubin, spokeswoman for the West Chester, Pa., channel, denied it banishes minority hosts to overnight hours, noting a recent prime-time program about Harley-Davidson motorcycles that had a black host. She was unable to say how many of the channel's 20 hosts are minorities.

Velez's and Owens' attorney, Alan Rich, said the channel has just two minorities, a black woman and black man.

"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."

Rich said that hosts who have strong followings and high sales are paid salaries five to six times Velez's $80,000 salary.

Velez joined a QVC affiliate in 1995, then moved to the channel a year later. His contract was not renewed in December 1997. Owens started with QVC in 1994 and her contract was not renewed in November.

QVC reaches more than 70-million households in the United States and Great Britain and had 1997 sales of $2-billion, according to the company.

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