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Spelling Lesson

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A pregnant actress proves she can deliver

Hunter tylo was painfully aware of the stares she attracted as she sat down for a Christmas Eve dinner with her husband and three children at a Burbank, Calif., restaurant. Since suing—and defeating—Melrose Place producer Aaron Spelling’s company for wrongful termination from the show for getting pregnant, Tylo has earned a new set of admirers and detractors. So when a woman walked toward Tylo’s table, the actress, who stars on The Bold and the Beautiful, braced for the worst. “I just want to say thank you,” the woman told Tylo. “I work as a nurse, and I’m pregnant, and I’m afraid to tell my boss.” Tylo, 35, was delighted, especially when other women approached her that evening with similar words of encouragement. “I’ve been through a lot in the past year and a half,” says Tylo. “But hearing from those women made it all worth it.”

That, no doubt, and the $4.89 million settlement she received Dec. 22 from a Los Angeles jury. “Even if she gained 47 pounds or whatever, she’s still a beautiful person,” juror Pete Ortiz told the Los Angeles Times after he, another man and 10 women (one of them pregnant) concluded that Spelling had unjustly fired Tylo after she revealed she was pregnant (with daughter Izabella, who turned 1 last November) in March of 1996. Two months earlier, Spelling had hired Tylo for at least eight episodes to play a Jezebel seductress who steals Jack Wagner’s character away from Heather Locklear‘s. Tylo says she discovered she was expecting only after she signed the contract but was fired before she shot a single scene. “Your pregnancy,” wrote Spelling’s lawyers, “is incompatible with this role.”

After a dishy six-week proceeding (Tylo’s lawyers charged that a Spelling official suggested she have an abortion, an allegation hotly denied by the defense) that began last November at L.A. County superior court and saw Melrose vixens Locklear and Lisa Rinna (Tylo’s replacement, who, like Locklear, became pregnant while appearing on the show) called to the stand by Tylo’s lawyers, the jury took it upon itself to award Tylo nearly double the $2.5 million she had sought for emotional distress and economic loss. Tylo, appearing often in short skirts that belied the fact that she was again pregnant, and due in just a few weeks, shattered the defense’s contention that she couldn’t be sexy and expecting at the same time. (Her next baby—a girl—is due Jan. 18.) After a week of deliberation, the jury returned with its verdict. Spelling lawyer Sally Suchil, who plans to appeal, insists that the fight has just begun. “The jury ignored the contract and the law. This is not over yet.”

Tylo is prepared to be patient. “I was just relieved that a jury of 12 people who don’t even know me heard the facts and said, ‘She’s right. What was done to her was wrong. It was against the law and she did suffer,’ ” says Tylo, who adds that she will give some of her settlement money to a charity for pregnant victims of job discrimination.

Tylo’s victory was no sooner won than it began to reverberate far beyond Hollywood. “High-profile cases like this are useful in educating people,” says Bernice Sandler, a scholar at the National Association for Women in Education. “It will tell pregnant women that they have rights.” But, says Suchil, “this is not a case about all working women. It is not precedent-setting.” In either case the trial’s amusement value was not lost on New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who wrote, “How many women, after all, are applying for the job description of vixen? Once you get beyond Aaron Spelling seductresses and Hooters waitresses, the market dwindles pretty quickly…. This could be the smallest class-action suit in history.”

But one with big consequences for Tylo. A devout Christian who is also mom to 16-year-old Christopher (from a previous marriage) and 9-year-old Michael, Tylo told PEOPLE that her dismissal caused her to question her faith. “Where is God?” she says she wondered. “Why did He let this happen?” She says doctors told her that stress may even have caused a placental tear that nearly cost her Izabella at a time when her husband of 10 years, Michael, 49, also an actor (formerly Blade on The Young and the Restless), was doing a play out of town and far from their four-bedroom L.A. home.

After she was fired, says Tylo, she became depressed, suffered migraines and became obsessed with her weight, fearful that if she gained too much, she would prove Spelling right. After going to court from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., she would head to CBS studios to act till 9 p.m. in The Bold and the Beautiful, whose writers artfully concocted a pregnancy plotline. “There were moments during the trial,” she says, “when I’d wonder, ‘Why am I going through all of this? I was feeling at one point that I was really getting cheated out of my family and my pregnancy. I’d cry, I’d be so tired. I’d be driving by myself thinking, ‘How am I going to get up and do this all again tomorrow?’ Then I could just hear [the Spelling side] mocking me, saying, ‘See how she looks!’ And that kept me going.”

In fact, says Tylo, she feared paparazzi “were watching my every move. I was paranoid about every outfit I wore in public, worried that somebody would be snapping shots of me. I couldn’t go to the grocery store the way I usually did, in baggy sweatpants and no makeup, because they could use how I look there against me.”

Now, perhaps, Tylo can finally let her hair down. Although she’ll probably never work for Spelling, her lucrative role on B&B is steady, and her profile has never been higher. “Career-wise, we’ll see what happens,” says Tylo. “I’m probably going to be a little more realistic about people and situations, though. I know what it’s like to have to choose between family and job, and I know I’m always going to put my family before my career.”