updated 6/22/2004 5:25:18 PM ET 2004-06-22T21:25:18

A lawyer for the QVC television shopping network told a jury Monday that the company relegated one of its black hosts to the graveyard shift, then fired her, because she was a poor saleswoman.

Former QVC personality Gwen Owens is suing the shopping network, claiming it hired minorities as “tokens,” but kept them off the air in prime time because it feared white viewers would be turned off by dark faces.

A federal jury heard five weeks of testimony from Owens, QVC Inc. executives and other minority hosts who complained about their treatment.

Jurors watched videotape
Jurors also watched videotape of on-air performances by Owens and other hosts, and were asked by both sides to judge for themselves whether she had what it took to be a saleswoman on the nation’s biggest TV shopping channel.

In his closing statement Monday, QVC lawyer H. Robert Fiebach, said Owens was in denial about the limitations of her talent. Her sales figures, he claimed, were “dismal.”
He noted that the competition for prime on-air jobs at the network was fierce, and that white hosts regularly lost their jobs too. Fiebach said the median tenure for a host at QVC is just two years.

“It’s a tough job, no matter how intelligent you are. No matter how educated you are, you might not be able to do the job effectively,” he said.

Owens also claimed to have developed post traumatic stress disorder from her firing, an allegation Fiebach called “an insult to our war veterans and survivors of terrorism.”
Owens’ attorney, Alan Rich, said the criticisms of his client’s performance were fabricated to cover up the network’s real reason for wanting her gone: her race.

No "room for four minorities"
Rich said the network decided it had too many minority hosts — all of whom were working overnight shifts — and fired Owens to avoid having to put her on a daytime assignment.
“She was humiliated. Her back was broken. Her spirit was destroyed. Why? Because there wasn’t room for four minorities,” Rich said.

Rich said QVC didn’t start criticizing Owens’ job performance in writing until another host who was Hispanic filed a discrimination suit against the network.

The jury began deliberations Monday and was to resume Tuesday.
Owens, who joined QVC in 1994 after having worked as a television news anchor in Lancaster, Pa., and was fired by the shopping network in 1998, is now a television reporter for a local Comcast Corp. channel.

She is also suing Comcast, claiming the company “blackballed” her, and denied her an anchor job after it learned about her lawsuit against QVC.
QVC reaches more than 85 million homes in the United States. Comcast once held a stake in QVC.

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