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'CLIMATE OF ANXIETY'

Boss of mobile phone firm France Telecom jailed after 19 stressed staff kill themselves over brutal job cuts

THE former CEO of a mobile phone company has been jailed after 19 stressed-out employees took their own lives during a drive to slash thousands of jobs.

Didier Lombard, 77, and other executives at France Telecom were found guilty of "institutional harassment" after the company was rocked by the suicides.

Didier Lombard and other execs at France Telecom were found guilty of harassment
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Credit: Reuters Didier Lombard and other execs at France Telecom were found guilty of harassment Credit: Reuters

Some of the victims, including one who jumped out of a fifth-floor window in front of her colleagues, left notes expressing their deep unhappiness at work.

One set fire to himself in the parking lot of a France Telecom site, reports the Mail Online.

Presiding judge Cecile Louis-Loyant said managers used "forbidden" methods to create "a climate of anxiety" in reaching the goal of cutting one in five jobs-22,000 in total-within three years.

The huge company-since rebranded Orange -was also fined £ 64,000 by the courts in France.

The court examined 39 cases of employees, 19 of whom had taken their own lives and 12 who had attempted to.

Others had lived with depression or had been otherwise unable to work.

In July 2009, a 51-year-old technician from Marseille killed himself, leaving a letter accusing bosses of "management by terror."

Lombard's lawyer said he and the others would appeal the ruling
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Credit: AFP or licensors Lombard's lawyer said he and the others would appeal the ruling Credit: AFP or licensors

Some employees were transferred to cities away from their families or left behind when offices were moved.

Others were assigned demeaning jobs or given unattainable performance objectives, reports the BBC.

Lombard was given a one-year prison sentence-with eight months suspended-and the maximum fine of £ 12,900 at the Paris courthouse.

His former deputy Louis-Pierre Wenes and human resources director Olivier Barberot received the same sentence.

Four other executives charged with "complicity in moral harassment" were given four-month suspended sentences and £ 4,300 fines.

The defendants were also ordered to pay a combined £ 2.57m to the plaintiffs as well as the families of those who died.

Lombard had denied management bore any responsibility for the deaths, despite telling managers in 2007 he would "get people to leave one way or another, either through the window or the door".

"The transformations a business has to go through aren't pleasant, that's just the way it is, there's nothing I could have done," he told the court.

After the ruling Lombard's lawyer said he would appeal branding the court's decision a "total misreading of the law."

However, Jean Perrin, whose brother Robert took his own life in 2008, expressed satisfaction at the verdict.

He told Libération: "They never had any remorse during the trial; they constantly put the blame on subordinates. I have only disgust and contempt for them."


If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123, or visit Mind 's website.