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Lawsuit spells out tumultuous time during HSN and QVC merger

(From left) Ray Lampe, aka Dr. BBQ, cooks as show host Alyce Caron enjoys the food during a show at HSN on Sunday, July 30, 2017, in St. Petersburg. Lampe debuted on HSN with Lampelicious, a line of sausages, burgers and pulled pork the same day. [Times (2017)]
Published Dec. 5, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — QVC executives were not in favor of how HSN stars were acting on camera in the months following the arch-rivals' merger, according to a lawsuit filed by a former employee.

Gordie Daniels, the former HSN talent manager at the company's St. Petersburg campus, says he was fired for sending an email asking its stars to adjust their acts even though he says his bosses approved the wording. The lawsuit from the Tampa resident describes turmoil between the networks as they came together under parent company Qurate Retail Group.

"QVC was very upset with how on-air talent was performing," Daniels' attorneys wrote. "Guests were stepping outside the roles QVC wanted them to play, and hosts were often unable to control their shows effectively. Guests were talking over hosts. Talent discussed topics such as pricing … and shipping which QVC did not want discussed. Some guests were also making overaggressive sales presentations."

In the 16-page lawsuit filed in Pinellas County Circuit Court, Daniels also described a workplace culture that fostered long hours without complete overtime pay. He also said he was treated differently than his white counterparts as one of few African Americans who worked at the company during his tenure form June 2016 to May 2018.

HSN and Qurate Retail Group said in an email they do not comment on pending litigation.

The now infamous email was first obtained by Page Six, the New York Post celebrity gossip website, in late May of 2018. The Page Six story quoted a company spokesperson who said the email "was not authorized, reviewed or approved for distribution." It also published quotes from anonymous network celebrities who responded to the email "in shock" and described it as "condescending."

The email was structured as a long list of "do's and don'ts" that included guidelines such as "Don't make false claims," because the channel needed to "build credibility," and "Do let the host lead the presentation." Daniels was let go shortly after the email leaked. HSN president Mike Fitzharris wrote an email of his own to apologize, calling Daniels' note something "that should have never been sent."

But in his lawsuit, Daniels' says the HSN's vice president and senior vice president approved the content.

"(HSN) falsely branded (Daniels) as an insubordinate, unprofessional, rogue employee who launched an 'insulting,' 'condescending,' and 'disrespectful' email to on-air talent," the lawsuit says. "(HSN) lied about what actually happened surrounding the email so it and QVC could save face and use (Daniels) as the scapegoat for a few people's anger over QVC's new direction."

Daniels also says he is owed about $23,000 for overtime pay he never received when he was an hourly worker. By the time he left in May, he was a salaried employee making $63,000.

HSN and QVC's management teams were pushed together under a new "QXH" unit in October, though each channel still has its branding identity. At that time, Qurate announced 350 layoffs by the end of the year — the bulk at the St. Petersburg offices.

It's been nearly one year since Qurate finalized the $2 billion purchase of HSN.

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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