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Bosses Jailed Over Worker Suicides

French court recognizes 'institutional harassment'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 20, 2019 9:50 AM CST
Former France Telecom Chief Executive Didier Lombard arrives at Paris' courthouse on May 13, 2019.   (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
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(Newser) – In a landmark case, three former executives at France Telecom have been jailed over workplace policies linked to the suicides or attempted suicides of more than 30 employees. Ex-president and CEO Didier Lombard, deputy Olivier Barberot, and Louis-Pierre Wenès, former director of human resources, were sentenced Friday to a year in jail, with eight months suspended, and given fines of roughly $16,600. It was the first time a court in France has recognized "institutional harassment," per the BBC. Unable to outright fire people under labor laws, France Telecom—now called Orange—transferred employees away from their families or gave them demeaning tasks in an effort to cut 22,000 jobs during a restructuring in the late 2000s. Union leaders said 35 employees committed suicide, though only 19 suicides were definitively found to be work-related.

One employee jumped out a window in front of her coworkers, another stabbed himself in the stomach at a staff meeting, and a third left a note reading, "I am committing suicide because of my work at France Telecom, it's the only cause," per France24 and Time. Another 12 employees attempted suicide, while others battled depression or other work-related conditions, as heard at a July trial. Four other executives found guilty of complicity were given four-month suspended sentences. They must also pay fines of $5,500. Orange was ordered to pay $83,000 and said it would not appeal the decision. Lombard, however, will appeal, per the Guardian. "The transformations a business has to go through aren't pleasant," the 77-year-old, forced to step down in 2010, had told the court. In 2007, he was quoted telling senior managers: "I'll get them out one way or another, through the window or through the door." (Read more France stories.)

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