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Orange top bosses caused employee suicides, rules court

December 20, 2019

Didier Lombard, the former CEO of France Telecom — now known as Orange — received a two-year jail term for his role in the deaths of 19 employees. Other executives and managers also received jail terms and hefty fines

Didier Lombard CEO France Telecom
Image: AP

The former top boss and other executives of France's Orange internet provider and telecoms firm were found guilty of a string of employee suicides at the company in a landmark ruling on Friday by a Paris court.

Orange, which was known as France Telecom at the time of the suicides of staff in the early 2000s, was also found guilty in the trial. The company received a hefty fine of €75,000 (more than $83,000) and ordered to pay hundreds of thousands more in damages — the final total is pending.

The trial marked the first time that a big company has been tried on a charge of "collective moral harassment" — France is one of only a few countries in the world where an institution or a company can be prosecuted for such an offense.

The trial focused on 39 cases in the years from 2006 and 2009 as the company cut 22,000 jobs — 19 suicides, 12 suicide attempts and eight cases of serious depression. There were other employee suicides during the time but these could not be linked directly and solely with their work.

The methods used by Orange and its executives, including former CEO Didier Lombard, deputy CEO Louis-Pierre Wenes and the director of human resources Olivier Barberot to reach 22,000 job cuts "were illegal,'' ruled the court, despite their not guilty plea.

Former CEO Didier Lombard arrives at Paris Courthouse on December 20 surrounded by police
Lombard apologized for a 'blunder' and plans to appeal his prison sentenceImage: Getty Images/AFP/L. Bonaventure

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Bosses' campaign of moral harassment

Didier Lombard, the company's former CEO received a four-month jail term and was ordered to pay €15,000 ($16,700) for his role is causing a string of suicides between the years of 2006 and 2009 as the company slashed 22,000 jobs.

He had previously said he "wanted employees to leave by the door or by the window" and told the court "the transformations a business has to go through aren't pleasant, that's just the way it is, there's nothing I could have done."

Former deputy CEO Louis-Pierre Wenes and the director of human resources Olivier Barberot were convicted for "leading a policy of destabilization" and each given a one-year sentence, with eight months suspended. They were both also ordered to pay €15,000.

Four further managers were convicted of complicity.

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The top executives had all pleaded not guilty during the two-month-long trial, denying responsibility for the suicides of people they did not know.

On the last day of the trial in July, Wenes said he was "deeply sorry" to "those for whom work was a source of discomfort and suffering. I never wanted that.''

Lombard admitted that he "made a blunder," but his lawyer said he plans to appeal the verdict.

Suicides highlight plight of IT workers in India

kmm/ng (AFP/AP)

If you are suffering from emotional strain or suicidal thoughts, do not hesitate to seek professional help. You can find information on where to find such help, no matter where you live in the world, at this website:https://www.befrienders.org/

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