Neighbours star sues over 'hurt and humiliation'

MICHAEL LALLO
Last updated 09:22 26/07/2013

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Former Neighbours star Kym Valentine is suing the producers of the long-running soap, alleging they subjected her to sex and disability discrimination.

She is also demanding they rehire her in the role of Libby Kennedy, which she played between 1994 and 2011.

Valentine, who has a young daughter and has been in poor health for years, has not appeared on the popular drama since taking sick leave two years ago.

Documents obtained by Fairfax Media show Valentine is seeking compensation for lost wages and "pain, hurt, suffering and humiliation", an acknowledgment that she suffered unlawful discrimination and an apology.

She is alleging that production company FremantleMedia Australia, legal director Steven Rosser and former Neighbours producers Susan Bower and Neal Kingston engaged in unlawful discrimination.

Valentine, 36, claims FremantleMedia failed to provide "a working environment that was safe" and that it breached "the relationship of trust and confidence".

Previous reports suggest the problems may go back to the late 2000s when Valentine first took a break from filming. In 2008, she contracted pneumonia, then suffered a collapsed lung on a flight from the US to Melbourne. She said she might have died on the plane had the crew not given her oxygen.

Bower then forced her to take a one-month break, casting Michala Banas to temporarily play her character, Libby. Valentine was devastated. "I went into the bathroom and just sobbed myself stupid," she told News Ltd. "Libby is like my partner. She's been with me for 14 years.

"It was like being told your boyfriend was going to be intimate with someone else and you not only had to deal with it, but be happy about it."

Yet Bower insisted her hands were tied. "I have to look after the individual and the show - and both of them were suffering," she said after Valentine returned to work in 2009. "Kymmy was just too ill to return to do the workload required to finish the episode in time for our contracted delivery date."

Valentine later praised Banas' portrayal of Libby and invited the actor to her house for dinner.

In 2010, she was twice admitted to hospital - first for a blood clot on her lung, then for exhaustion. At the start of 2011, she was again put in hospital for exhaustion before returning to Neighbours.

At the time she said: "In the past, I had a series of private emotional and physical issues that led to a decline in my health, which are still too raw to talk about."

A few months later, she took indefinite leave to seek help for what was believed to be a depressive illness. Bower said then: "We wish her all the best with her recovery and we'll continue to provide support where appropriate."

It is understood that Valentine's contract expired at the end of 2011. She never returned to the show but was reported to be hosting a Neighbours bus tour last year.

Last May her on-screen father, played by Alan Fletcher, told the TV Tonight website: "I saw Kym the other day. She has a very young daughter . . . and she's very focused on being a mum."

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Valentine's lawyer said the actor would not comment on the case.

A spokesperson for FremantleMedia said: "We don't comment on matters before the courts."

- Sydney Morning Herald

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