A Los Angeles Superior Court jury has awarded $7,763,440 in damages to former The Price Is Right model Brandi Cochran. The jury awarded Cochran $776,000 in compensatory damages and tacked on $7 million in punitive damages the next day.
Brandi Cochran, 41, showcased items and presented prizes to contestants on the long-running game show from 2002 to 2009. She sued FremantleMedia North America and “The Price Is Right” productions, claiming pregnancy discrimination and wrongful termination. Cochran claimed producers rejected her when she tried to return to work in 2010 after maternity leave. A California jury awarded her the punitive damages.
Cochran, 41, was pregnant with twins after years of trying to conceive but, she said, the show’s executive producer was not pleased. She claimed that when she told the producers that she was pregnant and expecting twins in December 2008, they began treating her poorly, made disparaging remarks about her eating habits and weight gain, and removed her from the show’s website.
The former model said her co-workers called her a “wide load” and said she would break the set with her added pounds from pregnancy. When Cochran’s baby bump started to show, the producers stopped calling her completely.
Months after her maternity leave in 2010, Cochran tried to return to the show but was rejected, she said. “They ignored me, for probably about four months, trying to get a direct response about working,” she said.
After informing the judge numerous times they were deadlocked, the jurors in the case found that Cochran, a former Miss USA and Miss Teen USA, was entitled to $776,000 in compensatory damages, but rejected her claims of mental hardship. The following day the jurors came back after the second phase of the trial and awarded Cochran $7.7 million in punitive damages.
FremantleMedia is appealing the verdict. In a statement, FremantleMedia has said, “we believe the verdict in this case was the result of a flawed process in which the court, among other things, refused to allow the jury to hear and consider that 40 percent of our models have been pregnant and other important evidence to our defense.” FremantleMedia has stated that they expect to be fully vindicated.
The verdict is a rare one for a program that has seen other lawsuits. Longtime host Bob Barker, who retired in 2007, was sued by some of the show’s hostesses for sexual harassment and wrongful termination. Most of the cases involving “Barker’s Beauties”, the nickname given the gown-wearing women who presented prizes to contestants, ended with out-of-court settlements.
According to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, a woman who takes a pregnancy disability leave and returns within the four-month period is guaranteed the right to return to her same position. An employer can reinstate a woman who takes a leave to a comparable position only if her same position is no longer available, such as in a layoff due to plant closure. If that is the case, the employer should offer a position that is comparable in terms of pay, location, job content, and promotional opportunities unless the employer can prove that no comparable position exist. An employer cannot refuse to return a woman who has taken a pregnancy leave to her original position if they like her temporary replacement better or if while she was out on leave her employer identified performance deficiencies that existed prior to her leave.
Published by Don Ho Law. Don Ho is an attorney in Orange County, California, focusing on criminal and employment law.