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Three French executives convicted in the suicides of 35 of their workers

Published: December 22, 2019
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The company, France Telecom − which used to be state-owned and is now known as Orange, one of France's largest corporations − was fined $120,000, the maximum penalty. Its ex-chief executive, Didier Lombard, was sentenced to four months in prison and fined $23,000, along with his former second-in-command and head of human resources.

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The spate of suicides, which happened more than a decade ago, came as the company underwent a massive restructuring. Then France's national telephone company, France Telecom embarked on an aggressive plan to cut 22,000 workers and shift another 10,000 into new jobs − all between 2006 and 2008. Most of the employees, because they were civil servants, could not be fired.

So, prosecutors said, the company's executives tried to make workers' lives so miserable they would leave voluntarily. Lombard, speaking to senior managers in 2007, reportedly vowed, "I'll get them out one way or another, through the window or through the door."

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In many cases, suicide notes blaming the company accompanied them. In court, the Associated Press reported, one was projected on a large screen, reading: "I am committing suicide because of my work at France Telecom, it's the only cause."

For years, however, the company downplayed the suicides, calling them not statistically surprising for a workforce so large.

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