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$4.9-Million Award Upheld in 'Melrose Place' Firing

Courts: Judge agrees with a jury's decision that actress unfairly lost role because of pregnancy.

April 02, 1998|ANN W. O'NEILL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Actress Hunter Tylo, who convinced a jury that she was fired from the prime-time soap opera "Melrose Place" for getting pregnant, can keep the nearly $5-million verdict she won, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday.

In denying Spelling Entertainment Group's request to throw out the verdict or at least reduce the award, Judge Fumiko Hachiya Wasserman also ordered Spelling to pay slightly more than $900,000 in attorneys' fees to Tylo's lawyers.

The bulk of those fees will go to attorneys Nathan Goldberg and Gloria Allred, who said Wasserman's ruling upheld an important civil rights case.

Allred said the trial marked the first courtroom challenge to Hollywood's practice of dictating how actresses must look to keep their roles.

Spelling Entertainment, which had argued that the $4.9-million verdict was excessive and awarded by "a runaway jury," said through a spokeswoman that it would appeal.

"We're extremely disappointed that the trial court has refused to set aside the jury's outrageous verdict," Spelling said in a prepared statement. "There are no legal grounds to support the verdict or the jury's award of damages, and we are confident that we will be vindicated at the appellate court level."

"We'll fight them every step of the way," Goldberg responded. "We're not going anywhere."

Goldberg said the judge's decision to uphold the jury's verdict demonstrated that it was reasonable. Spelling, he added, "didn't get it" when the producers fired Tylo for getting pregnant before shooting began for the 1997-98 season. "Maybe now they will finally get it," he said. "What they did was wrong. You don't fire a woman, even an actress, simply because she is pregnant."

Tylo, who stars on the daytime soap "The Bold and the Beautiful," said through her lawyers that Wasserman's decision "is a victory for all pregnant working women, and all those who are thinking of becoming pregnant."

Tylo was hired in early 1996 to play the part of a scheming, bed-hopping seductress intent on stealing star Heather Locklear's TV husband. Tylo became pregnant and was fired before filming a single scene.

Jurors had agreed in December that Spelling executives discriminated against Tylo by firing her.

The producers claimed the pregnancy amounted, under Tylo's contract, to a "material change in her appearance" that made her unsuitable for a vixen's role.

"In Hollywood, appearance is everything," argued Spelling attorney Paul Grossman during a two-hour hearing last week. "If you don't look the role, you don't get the role."

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