Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Discrimination Laws Now Embrace Pregnant Women

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Discrimination Laws Now Embrace Pregnant Women

Article excerpt

LOS ANGELES -- The makers of the soap opera Melrose Place figured that actress Hunter Tylo would look great as a scantily clad seductress.

Then, Spelling Entertainment Group learned she was pregnant -- not quite what the show's producers had in mind four months before filming was to start. Spelling got another surprise after it fired her in April 1996: Tylo filed an appearance-discrimination suit.

Not long ago, she might have lost: Pregnant woman were often demoted or fired, even when looks weren't important to the job. Instead, she won. So do a rising number of plaintiffs fired over appearance, thanks to discrimination laws that offer protection to people with problems ranging from ill-fitting dentures to acne, legal experts say. "We've seen the scope of discrimination laws expand greatly during the past 20 years," said Erwin Chemerinsky, law professor at University of Southern California in Los Angeles. "The law is very clear now that employers can't fire women just because they're pregnant." Tylo, who plays a psychologist on the CBS daytime soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful, was awarded $4.89 million last month for emotional distress and economic losses by a California Superior Court jury. Spelling plans to appeal. A pregnant Tylo would have been too chubby to play the "extremely sexual" role her contract called for, and Spelling wasn't required to accommodate her, said Sally Suchil, Spelling's in-house lawyer. Tylo also violated a "material change in appearance" clause in her contract, Suchil said. Tylo, 35, had plenty of ammunition on her side. First, her case was helped by the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which bars workplace bias based on pregnancy and childbirth. And it didn't hurt that she showed up at the trial, eight months pregnant with another child, in a see-through blouse and a thigh-revealing slit skirt. "The jury believed that Spelling couldn't make the assumption that just because she was pregnant she couldn't act the part of a sexy vixen," said Louis Pechman, chairman of the New York County Lawyers Association on Labor Relations and Employment Law. Spelling, which is controlled by Viacom, didn't help its case. The producers of Melrose, which airs on News Corp.'s Fox Television, had already given a break to pregnant actress Heather Locklear, using body doubles, camera angles and stage sets to hide her midriff. Spelling's Suchil maintains that, unlike Melrose veteran Locklear, Tylo had never appeared on the show and wasn't crucial to its popularity. That doesn't matter, said University of Southern California's Chemerinsky. "The change in Tylo's appearance was for a relatively short duration," he said. "It was the obligation of the employer to accommodate it." Plaintiffs who claim they were unlawfully fired because of their looks have plenty of tools to use in fighting back. …

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