House Rules contestant wins compensation from Seven for psychological injury

Penny Burfitt
Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer

A former contestant on Channel Seven’s House Rules has won a compensation case against the network after sustaining psychological injury in the course of her appearance on the show.

A landmark finding ruled the reality TV contestant was technically an employee of the network while appearing on the series, and had incurred serious ‘psychological injury’ as a direct result of appearing on the show.

House Rules is a renovation reality series that, until earlier this year, was hosted by Johanna Griggs.

Seven has been contacted for comment.

Johanna Griggs hosts the series, which was found to have employed Nicole Prince as a contestant. Photo: Seven

Nicole Prince, who appeared on season 5 of the renovation show, was found to have sustained “psychological/ psychiatric injury” because of her time on the show, with direct reference made to her portrayal as a ‘bully’ on the series, and the ensuing social media commentary that appeared on Channel Seven’s Facebook page.

In the landmark finding, the Commission determined both that Ms Prince was a worker employed by Channel Seven, and as such was owed compensation for what was determined to be psychological injury she sustained while on the show and in its aftermath.

House Rules appearance ‘the main contributing factor’ to psychological injury

A 27-page decision published from the finding detailed arbitrator Cameron Burge’s summary of the case, and pulled no punches on the impact the events have had on Nicole Prince.

“It is not the role of the Commission to find fault or negligence with an employer. Rather, it is enough if the applicant’s injury was as a result of her own perception of real events in or arising out of her employment,” the findings explain.

Ms Prince appeared on the show with best friend Fiona Taylor and the pair were voted out on the series’s second episode, though not before they were well and truly painted as the season’s villains.

Nicole Prince (left) and teammate Fiona Taylor (right) in a publicity shot for the series.

The commission found the breakdown between the ladies and the rest of the cast was one of the main reasons for the psychological injury.

“The breakdown in the applicant’s relationship with other contestants, together with the impact of her portrayal on television and social media, in my view explains the onset of her psychological injury,” the findings read.

“The fact that each of the contributing factors arose out of or in the course of the employment relationship satisfies me on the balance of probabilities, in adopting a common-sense approach to the cause of the applicant’s condition, that her employment with the respondent was not only a substantial contributing factor to her injury, but was the main contributing factor to its development,” the report continued.

The commission also found the contestant had no relevant history of pre-existing psychological or psychiatric conditions or injuries.

‘Devastating’ toll of portrayal on House Rules

In a submission to the commission, Ms Prince’s treating psychiatrist, Dr Akers, explained she had been diagnosed with “major depressive episode and some features consistent with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)”.

The exact amount Nicole will receive has not yet been determined, pending an approved medical specialist’s determination of the permanent impairment caused.

In the submission to the Commission, Ms Prince said while filming, she and Fiona were threatened with negative portrayal when they complained about their treatment onset.

“When I complained to Channel Seven, I was then threatened that Fiona and I would be portrayed negatively,” Nicole said in a statement quoted in the findings.

“After our episode was aired I was subjected to online abuse on the Channel 7 Facebook page, including receiving threats of serious physical assault. I have been fearful for my safety ever since.”

“I feel devastated and worthless about the loss of my career and working life.”

Landmark finding

The harrowing account and finding mark a landmark moment for Australian reality TV.

Was Nicole found not to be a worker employed by Seven, the network would not have been responsible for any injury sustained.

The contestant even signed a contract that stipulated; “your participation in the program is not employment, does not create an employer/employee relationship between Seven and you and is not subject to any award or collective bargaining or workplace agreement and does not entitle you to any wages, salary, corporate benefits, superannuation, workers compensation benefits or any other compensation”.

She was upheld as an employed worker regardless.

With Nicole found to be in the employment of the network while filming House Rules, it opens the possibility that other reality contestants will be considered employed by their relevant networks.

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