Actress Hunter Tylo, who claimed she was fired from the TV series “Melrose Place” because she became pregnant, was awarded nearly $5 million in her breach of contract lawsuit against the show’s producer, Spelling Entertainment.
Tylo was given nearly a million in lost wages — and $4 million for emotional distress, the latter believed to be the industry’s largest amount in that area.
Hollywood dealmakers surveyed Monday said the decision will likely require film and TV producers to be more explicit in contract clauses governing an actor’s appearance. They added that, when casting a role, producers are also now more likely to factor in an actress’s possibility of pregnancy.
During the trial, Spelling lawyers had claimed that Tylo breached an appearance clause in her contract. They said that the federal law forbidding pregnancy discrimination makes an exception for actresses because of the need for dramatic believability.
“This verdict sends a message to the Hollywood community that you cannot fire someone simply because they become pregnant,” Tylo’s attorney Nate Goldberg told Daily Variety. “Just because they become pregnant, (the studios) can’t assume actresses can no longer do the job.”
Goldberg said “Melrose” producers chose to shoot around the pregnancies of cast members Heather Locklear and Lisa Rinna “out of an economic decision. They claimed Heather was a star and Lisa’s character had been established. But the jury apparently felt Tylo could have done the job and been believable even while pregnant.”
Tylo also received more than $894,000 in lost wages, which represented the entire payout called for in her employment contract had she remained on the show.
The show’s producers contended they had a legal right to fire her because she couldn’t realistically play what a Spelling attorney called a “vixen, seductress, adulteress” while her pregnancy showed.
Juror Pete Ortiz said, “We felt she could play the vixen — that’s the word that came up during our deliberations — and that she could do the job.” Jurors spent most of five days deliberating on the amount of money to be awarded.
Attorneys for Spelling said the company will appeal the verdict. “The jury did not follow the law or the evidence presented in the case,” Sally Suchil, general counsel of Spelling Entertainment, told Daily Variety.
“The plaintiff is portraying us a discriminators against pregnant women, which we are not. We’ve had seven or eight pregnancies on the show,” said Suchil. “This is about us being allowed to pursue our creative vision for the character. For the genuineness and authenticity of the character, we are allowed to make these type of decisions.”
Tylo, who now plays a psychologist on the daytime series “The Bold and the Beautiful,” said she hopes the verdict sends “a message to producers to stop treating actors and actresses like pieces of meat.”
The federal law on discrimination permits exceptions in certain circumstances, including application to actors and actresses.
Employment litigation attorney Steven Kaplan of Krakow & Kaplan said the Tylo case had a unique set of circumstances, but the jury obviously felt the actress was discriminated against because she became pregnant, a violation of federal law.
“It’s a very high amount for emotional distress,” Kaplan told Daily Variety. “Usually such awards are one or two times the amount of (lost wages). The jury is saying an important civil rights law shouldn’t be pushed aside by an appearance clause and that the only reason Spelling (fired her) was because she was pregnant.”
The 34-year-old actress filed suit against Spelling Entertainment in 1996 alleging breach of contract, pregnancy discrimination and wrongful termination.
Attorney Goldberg asked the jury for more than $2.5 million in damages for lost wages and emotional distress.