Ex-France Telecom CEO Charged With Harassment After Staff Suicides

(Reuters/With AOL Jobs) - France Telecom's former chief executive was charged as part of a probe into a slew of staff suicides after he reorganized the company. The lawyer for Didier Lombard told Bloomberg that he was officially charged with mental harassment.

Didier Lombard was former head of the telecommunications company when it was engulfed in controversy linked to the suicides of more than 30 employees in 2008 and 2009, a decade after its privatisation.

Lombard, who stepped down as CEO in early 2010 amid criticism of his handling of the crisis, was released under court surveillance on bail of 100,000 euros ($125,000) after being questioned for four hours by two investigating magistrates.

"I forcefully reject the idea that (restructuring) plans vital to the survival of the company might have been the cause of human tragedies," the former CEO wrote in Le Monde daily on Wednesday, proclaiming his innocence.

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Lombard's lawyer, Jean Veil, said his client had not been given a chance to explain himself fully but sought to clarify the context of his actions by referring to tough economic conditions and pressure exerted by the government, a minority stakeholder.

Unions said harsh practices including forced moves and impossible performance targets were partly behind the rash of suicides. France Telecom had countered by saying the rate was no higher than in the general population.

Yet the former CEO, who was succeeded by Stephane Richard, said after stepping down that he regretted not taking measures earlier than he had to boost staff morale at the company of more than 100,000 employees.

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In February 2010, government labour inspectors wrote in a report on the suicides that France Telecom had ignored warnings from doctors about the mental health of certain employees.

The report, seen by Reuters, pointed to a restructuring plan that sought to reduce headcount by 22,000 and put 10,000 other workers in new positions as having a "pathological effect" on staff morale.

"In this case, Mr Didier Lombard is being accused of harassment against people that he never met," Veil said. "That is a stunning accusation."

If found guilty of harassment, Lombard could face up to one year in prison and a 15,000-euro fine.

Two other former senior executives at France Telecom have been summoned by investigating magistrates.

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What a difference a continent makes, and France seems much more worker friendly than the US. Ti understand the difference, one has to understand the fundamental difference between criminal and civil charges. Criminal charges are generally those that can result in the loss of freedom of the person charged, while civil charges are anything else. In the US, business decisions such as downsizing and performane standards equally applied across the board could never result in criminal charges as far as I know, where in France, it is obviously different. This CEO is being criminally charged with downsizing and performance standards that were apparently impossible to meet, despite warnings that it was having an adverse effect on "some" workers' mental health. Maybe if US executives were subject to the same laws as French executives apparently are, we would have much more humane workplaces. After all, the common view of the American CEO is that she or he puts self interest above anything else.

July 07 2012 at 7:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Some people missed the part where this is taking place in France and the Telecoms Company is partly owned by the French gov. ! The culture and the context are different. People do not react in the same way as in the US. But most importantly, they do not have access to the same tools of legal assistance and support as in America. The legal system is fastidious, extremely slow, discouraging. 30 + suicides within two years is an incredible and totally stupefying amount! This rogue of a CEO would be getting away with murder with such a short sentence and a ridiculous financial penalty that is a feather stroke (with his fat salary). I sure hope that he at least gets a taste of evil while in jail. Sadly, the families of the victims will not even have access to a civil lawsuit! Class action lawsuits do not exist in France.

July 07 2012 at 4:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A lot of people are represented by 22,000. I wonder what happened here in the states with the auto industry and its suicide rate. A lot more than 22,000 lost their jobs.

July 07 2012 at 3:48 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I hope this ego-maniacal destructive tyrant gets raped repeatedly in jail. Those poor lives can never be brought back but this blue blood piece of human trash should be subjected to infinite suffering. Unfortunately in America rich people just buy their way out of jail and executives are never held accountable for their actions, they are just given one handout and one bailout after another.

July 07 2012 at 2:15 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I don't care what kind of a stinker this guy was, he can't be totally responsible for 30 suicides. Hey, your boss is a jerk, you join a protest, file a lawsuit, key his cotton-pickin' car -- but SUICIDE!? If nothing else, stick around and grin at him like a Cheshire cat just to drive HIM crazy! Something is missing from this article.

July 07 2012 at 1:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to farkleberry71606's comment

Agree. Those who commit suicide are responsible for doing so. Can't blame EVERYTHING on CEOs, the boss, your mama et al.

July 07 2012 at 3:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wow. This guy promoted gorilla warfare in this corporation. Talk about shattering every part of belief in other human beings...very scary the amount of lives affected by this guy.

July 07 2012 at 12:03 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

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