Brandi Cochran, a former model on The Price Is Right television show, has been awarded more than $8.5 million in punitive and compensatory damages by a Los Angeles County Court jury based on a finding of unlawful pregnancy bias and discharge in violation of public policy. Cochran v. FreemantleMedia (Cal. Super Ct. 2012). The punitive damages portion of the award totals $7,769,440.
The trial disclosed a series of biased comments by show producers, including negative comments about Cochran’s weight and eating habits during her pregnancy and expression of annoyance upon learning that she was expecting twins. The verdict also appears to have been influenced by evidence of alleged discrimination against other models who became pregnant while working on the show. After defense counsel argued that Cochran’s alleged miscues and tardiness were the real issue, testimony from Drew Carey, Bob Barker’s replacement as host of the long-running game show, undercut those claims.
Cochran was eventually fired following a disability leave after delivering twins three months early by emergency Caesarian section. Only one child survived. Cochran claimed that even after struggling to lose the necessary weight to return to the show, she could not get an answer on returning for two months before being informed of her termination by a female producer. The corporate employers found liable are planning to appeal the verdict arguing that important defense evidence was excluded in error including that some 40 percent of models have been pregnant in the show’s history.
Pregnancy bias claims that don’t involve celebrities and large verdicts like this one rarely get much media attention. They remain, however, a consistent source of claims against employers. Employers should have medical and parental leave policies, including Family and Medical Leave, if covered, to manage employees’ absences due to birth or adoption of children. And, they should avoid stray remarks about an employee’s pregnancy or the effect of the pregnancy on the workplace.