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Actress awarded $5 million for ‘Melrose Place’ firing over pregnancy

December 23, 1997

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Jurors who thought actress Hunter Tylo could still portray a sexy vixen while pregnant awarded her nearly $5 million on Monday for emotional distress and wages lost after being fired from ``Melrose Place.″

The 34-year-old actress contended in her breach-of-contract and pregnancy discrimination lawsuit that one of the producers of the steamy Fox TV show said: ``Why doesn’t she just go out and get an abortion? Then she can work.″

Ms. Tylo, who was fired in March 1996, pronounced the verdict a victory ``for every woman, for every child that’s not born.″

``I know a lot of actresses who are afraid to announce that they are thinking about having children because they are afraid of being written out or written down, or whatever,″ she said outside court. ``I hope it gives other actresses confidence to know producers are not going to have that ground to stand on anymore.″

The Superior Court jury of 10 women and two men ordered Spelling Entertainment Group and Spelling Television Inc. to pay $4 million for emotional distress and $894,601 for economic loss.

Spelling Entertainment attorney William Waldo said he will appeal.

Juror Pete Ortiz, 41, said the panel agreed that Ms. Tylo could play the role of seductress Taylor McBride despite her pregnancy.

``We believe they violated the contract,″ Ortiz said. ``We felt she could play a vixen _ that’s a word that came up during our deliberations _ and that she could do the job.″

The producers contended they had a legal right to fire Ms. Tylo because she couldn’t realistically play what a Spelling attorney called a ``vixen, seductress, adulteress″ while her pregnancy showed.

The producers pointed to a clause in the contract allowing them to fire her if her appearance changed, and argued that pregnancy-discrimination law carves out an exception for actresses because of the need for dramatic believability.

Ms. Tylo was fired before she ever appeared on ``Melrose Place.″ She returned to her job on the daytime CBS soap ``The Bold and the Beautiful,″ where she plays a sexy psychologist.

She said the ``Melrose Place″ producers could have used TV magic, including body doubles and creative camera angles, to hide her pregnancy, as they did with the show’s star, Heather Locklear.

The jury’s decision could affect the entire entertainment industry, where appearances often count more than talent, but none more so than television, where actors can stay in roles for years, said Dana Kornbluth, a publicist for Warner Vision, a division of Warner Home Video.

``I would hope that when someone is hired for a part, they are hired for their talent and that a producer would work around them,″ Kornbluth said. ``But I think going into a show with a new role is a different story.″

To underscore her point that she could be pregnant and sexy at the same time, Ms. Tylo _ who is in her eighth month of another pregnancy _ wore tight miniskirts to court each day. Her pregnancy barely showed.

In a deposition read in court, Spelling said producers never considered using a body double for Ms. Tylo.

The deposition also included a letter from executive producer Frank South, who told Spelling it was ``not dramatically sensible″ to have a woman who is five months pregnant ``rolling around in bed with our stars.″

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