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TELECOMS giant Orange was found guilty today of “collective moral harassment” against its staff which resulted in at least 19 suicides between 2006 and 2009.
Former company CEO Didier Lombard has been handed a four-month prison sentence and fined €15,000 (£12,750), while Orange has been fined €75,000 (£64,000) and ordered to pay out hundreds of thousands of euros in compensation. Orange’s 2018 revenues exceeded €41 billion (£37.8bn).
Mr Lombard’s number two Louis-Pierre Weynes and human resources director Olivier Barberot were also convicted of mounting a “policy of destabilisation” in a bid to slash jobs and have been sentenced to prison terms and fines. All three are planning to appeal.
Thirty-five employees of France Telecom, as it was then known, killed themselves amid a hostile environment which had been created by management following 2004’s privatisation, in an effort to drive staff to quit their jobs. Investigators focused on 19 of these cases, as well as on 12 attempted suicides and eight cases of acute depression.
The trial was the first of its kind in France which, rather than focusing on individual cases of bullying by specific managers, sought to hold the company’s top bosses responsible for “creating a professional climate which provoked anxiety.”
“The methods used to reach 22,000 job cuts were illegal,” the court ruled, rejecting arguments from Orange that the cuts were a necessary part of the privatisation process.
The court heard testimony including the suicide note of one employee who wrote: “I am committing suicide because of my work at France Telecom. It’s the only cause.”
Tactics included transferring staff without warning to places miles from their families, leaving them without work stations or offices for months while piling on impossible targets and aggressive micromanagement with sanctions for failing to hit targets. Trade union campaigning forced Mr Weynes to resign in 2009, but France’s then-finance minister Christine Lagarde — now president of the European Central Bank — rejected calls to act against Mr Lombard, saying he had her full confidence.
Mr Lombard now says that he had “blundered” when he told managers he wanted them to induce staff to leave “by the door or by the window.” One 32-year-old female employee did later hurl herself to her death from a fifth-floor window.
He had earlier dismissed the wave of deaths as a “suicide fad.”
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