French telecom company Orange convicted over worker suicides
French phone and Internet provider Orange was found guilty Friday of collective moral harassment for a string of employee suicides.
A Paris court fined the company 75,000 euros (more than $83,000) in a landmark court ruling over suicides in the 2000s while the company was undergoing difficult restructuring. A decision on whether to award 2 million euros ($2.2 million) in damages from the company was pending.
Former Orange CEO Didier Lombard was also convicted and sentenced to four months in prison and ordered to pay 15,000 euros in fines. Other managers were also sentenced to prison and thousands of euros in fines. It is not yet clear whether they will appeal.
Lombard, his former right-hand man Louis-Pierre Wenes, and the director of human resources Olivier Barberot were accused of leading a “policy of destabilization” as they sought to shed 22,000 jobs in the 2000s. Four other managers were accused of complicity.
They denied responsibility for the suicides of people they didn’t know. But the court ruled they and the company were guilty of collective moral harassment.
Orange is France’s first big company to be tried on the charge so this could set a legal precedent.
According to the court, “the methods used to reach 22,000 job cuts were illegal.”
Orange’s lawyers said the job cuts were a necessary part of the privatization of state-run France Telecom. Lombard’s lawyer also said that the ex-CEO “saved the business” and turned Orange into a big international telecommunications player.
Orange is still France’s dominant telephone company and has operations in 26 countries around Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Its share price did not see significant change after the ruling.
To recall, scores of employees killed themselves amid the restructuring. The trial focused on 39 cases between 2006 and 2009: 19 suicides, 12 suicide attempts, and eight cases of serious depression. Other employee suicides couldn’t be linked directly and solely with their work.
For two and a half months, the court listened to the families of the victims and projected letters and photos on a giant screen. One read: “I am committing suicide because of my work at France Telecom, it’s the only cause.”
But 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, now 77, admitted in court that he “made a blunder” in 2006 when he said he “wanted employees to leave by the door or by the window.” He also admitted to once saying there was “a pattern of suicide in the business.” Lombard left his post in 2010.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.