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SAG/AFTRA Member Sues QVC for $105M

A New York member of Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) has filed a $105 million class-action discrimination lawsuit against QVC, Inc.

Victor Velez, a former on-air host who started at Q2‹QVC's companion service in Queens, N.Y.‹in September 1995, has filed the suit in United States District Court, Eastern District of New York. According to the complaint, Velez has filed "on behalf of himself and all other similarly situated victims of discrimination based on race, color and national origin" who are formerly, presently, or may be employed by QVC.

Velez is an Hispanic actor who resides in Queens. He is being joined in the lawsuit by another former QVC host, Gwen Owens, a black woman whose QVC resume stated that she is a member of AFTRA.

Based in West Chester, Pa., west of Philadelphia, QVC calls itself "the world's preeminent electronic retailer." In 1997, it recorded over $2 billion in sales on its TV channels.

The suit accuses QVC of four general illegalities:

1. Relegating minority hosts "to the least desirable "graveyard' time slots with the least desirable merchandise";

2. Failing to provide "equal opportunity for professional development and advancement, to develop an audience following and ultimately equal pay";

3. Keeping Velez and "most other on-air minority hosts...for a relatively short period of time," and not renewing Velez's contract with about 3 1/2 years left on it;

4. Retaliating against Velez for complaining about how he and other minorities weren't receiving equal job opportunities.

The suit also says that QVC's even hiring Velez "to such a "token' position was a discriminatory act." It accuses QVC of "a systematic and pervasive pattern of discrimination" which "continues to date."

Velez was employed by the TV retailer until November 1997, according to the suit. While it wasn't clear when Owens left, the complaint does state that the plaintiffs "would like to return to their prior jobs in the position they would have been had no such discriminatory environment and action not been taken against them."

Eight Counts Listed

The complaint also lists eight counts, or causes of action, including violation of Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. Among other prohibitions, the act forbids an employer to refuse to hire or to discharge, "or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin...."

The other counts include violation of similar laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1866; the New York State and New York City Human Rights laws; and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Law.

Alan Rich, a New York attorney representing Velez and Owens, said QVC was served the complaint on Dec. 23, and it was filed with the court some time between Christmas and New Year's.

He added that the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission originally takes the discrimination complaints, then validates the plaintiff's right to sue. Velez went through the process, was approved, and became the "named plaintiff," which Rich said is "a kind of academic issue." The filing by the named plaintiff then allows others to join the class action.

According to Velez's QVC resume, he was director of sales and marketing at Estrellas productions, a Hispanic-market commercial production company before joining QVC. His theatrical credits include "Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?" and "Moonchildren," with film credits including "City Hall," and "Crackdown: Big City Blues." He has also performed voice-overs for HBO Productions and has appeared in numerous TV commercials.

The resume also lists Velez as a founder of the Hunter College Drama Workshop, and having associations with both Queens Theatre Company and the Latin City Ensemble, an original comedy group.

Owens' resume listed extensive TV news-anchor positions, an Emmy nomination for news journalism, an Associated Press award, and a Women in Communications award.

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