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Judge to Ex-CEO in Suicide Trial: 'Are You Crying?'

Testimony is heart-wrenching in France Telecom trial
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 10, 2019 6:15 PM CDT
French unions members demonstrate at the start of the trial of French group France Telecom in front of the Paris' courthouse, Monday, May 6, 2019.   (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
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(Newser) – A head-turning case in France is putting employee suicides at the feet of their old bosses. In a two-month trial slated to end this week, prosecutors say former executives at France Télécom—a national phone company that went private amid harsh competition—made life intolerable for employees in order to downsize, the New York Times reports. And the executives don't exactly deny it. "They were stuck, cornered," said a lawyer for the plaintiffs. "The only possibility was to make [workers] leave, one way or another." But court testimony in Paris is heart-wrenching: Relocated or pushed into jobs without training, at least 35 workers hanged themselves, set themselves on fire, or jumped out windows, off bridges, and under trains.

"We loved my father. You killed him. And all for what?" said the daughter of a 57-year-old man who immolated himself outside a France Télécom office in 2011, per the Guardian. At one point ex-CEO Didier Lombard appeared to weep while giving testimony, and the judge asked, "Are you crying, Mr. Lombard?" He said that "people think I don't have a heart. That's not true." Things went downhill for France Télécom when thousands of fixed-line subscribers fled during the digital revolution, and the company, ordered by the state to go private in 2003, quickly accumulated over $50 billion in debt. Executives wanted to cut 22,000 jobs, but couldn't due to France's strong labor protections. Each of the seven accused, including Lombard, could get a $16,800 fine and a year in jail. (Read more harassment stories.)

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