December 01, 1997 12:00 PM

SHE FEELS AS IF SHE HAS BEEN branded with a scarlet letter P—for pregnancy,” says high-profile attorney Gloria Allred, speaking for actress Hunter Tylo. To Melrose Place producers, who learned that Tylo was (to her surprise and theirs) pregnant just weeks after she signed up with the Fox hit in February ’96, the more crucial letter was V—for va-va-voom. The question was whether the mother-to-be would have enough of it to compete in a cast of vixens headed by Heather Locklear.

She would not, claimed the powers at Spelling Entertainment Group when they sacked Tylo two months later. Tylo, 35, best known as psychiatrist Taylor Hayes on CBS’s The Bold and the Beautiful, responded that May with a discrimination suit for unspecified damages. “They’re saying, ‘If you can’t act with your butt, we don’t need you,’ ” an angry Tylo told PEOPLE at the time.

The case, which went to trial Nov. 10 in L.A. County Superior Court, has been as entertaining as any drama in the Aaron Spelling stable. The jury has been treated to tears, a bombshell revelation, testimony from guest stars (Lisa Rinna has already taken the stand, and Locklear is expected) and the poker-faced attempt by Tylo’s other attorney, Nathan Goldberg, to sum up Melrose’s bed-hopping plot: “The show is about the lives, purportedly, of this very interesting group of people that live in this apartment building.”

Tylo, who caught Spelling’s eye in a 1994 episode of Burke’s Law, was preparing to move into that building last February. Cast for eight episodes, she was to play a naughty new tenant hellbent on seducing Jack Wagner, who portrays Locklear’s doctor husband, Peter Burns. Although Tylo wasn’t due on set until July, “she was aware the role was that of an adulteress,” says a Spelling spokesperson. “She said she understood the parameters.”

Then, on March 29, Tylo—married since 1987 to former Young and the Restless star Michael Tylo, 49—was told that a pregnancy test she took nine days earlier had come back positive. Melrose executive producer Frank South’s response was anything but, according to Goldberg, who told the jury South reacted with “shock, outrage.” One Spelling official, Goldberg continued, asked Tylo’s manager, Marv Dauer, “Why doesn’t she get an abortion?” (Sally Suchil, Spelling Entertainment’s general counsel, calls the allegation “completely untrue.”)

By April 10, when producers told Tylo to expect a fax, “she knew it wouldn’t be a love letter,” says Dauer. Citing a standard clause that allows for dismissal of a performer on grounds of “material change in appearance,” the producers were terminating her. “Your pregnancy,” they wrote, “is incompatible with this role.”

Taking the stand at the start of the trial, the actress presented her own body of evidence to the contrary. Soap-star stunning in a jacket open over a gray silk blouse, she provoked gasps when she revealed that she’s eight months pregnant now. “Nobody could tell she was pregnant at all,” crowed Allred later. Call it déjà vu: After Melrose, Tylo had returned to The Bold and the Beautiful, taking no time off before giving birth to Isabella on Nov. 12, 1996. “There she was,” recalls Allred, “seven months pregnant, doing a full-body shot in a sexy love scene.”

But off-camera, Tylo testified, she had suffered from migraines, exhaustion and a stress-induced tear in her placenta. And despite the born-again Christian’s moral values, “I considered an abortion,” said a tearful Tylo, who has two children, Chris, 17 (from a first marriage), and Mickey, 10. “And I’m ashamed.” Asked why she would risk career blacklisting by taking an industry giant to court, she said, “My family was treated like a piece of dirt beneath someone’s shoe.” Adds Dauer: “Hunter is doing this for all other actresses.”

Whether the women she left behind need her help is another question. A spokesperson for Spelling’s company confirms that eight cast and crew members have become mothers in the past year and a half. Locklear, who gave birth to daughter Ava on Oct. 4, was eight months pregnant when she wrapped her scenes for the season. And Tylo’s replacement, Rinna, currently 10 weeks pregnant by husband Harry Hamlin, will have her pregnancy worked into the script.

Her vixen may have to cool down a few degrees. “I had to wear less clothing, use my sexuality, my body and my looks in a way I’d never done before,” Rinna said on the stand, describing her Taylor McBride role as part of the defense testimony. “To go head-to-head with Heather Locklear, you’d better pull out all your stops.”

TOM GLIATTO

CRAIG TOMASHOFF, JOHN HANNAH and KEN BAKER in Los Angeles

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