Photo: Orange

Orange, a French telecom giant, is being sued for moral harassment, among other charges, after 19 employees died by suicide and another 12 attempted to kill themselves over a three-year span. Over 100 people have claimed work culture at the company, contributed to employees’ mental health issues.

The trial, which started on Monday, is being characterized as the largest case of its type involving a company and its executives. There were originally 39 employees on the case, of which almost half had died by suicide, and 126 more people asked to join claiming they also suffered from the work culture.

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In addition to Orange (previously named France Télécom), former president of the company Didier Lombard, former HR director Olivier Barberot, and former deputy executive director Louis-Pierre Wenes are among the company executives on trial for having “degraded work conditions of personnel that risked hurting their rights and dignity, altering the physical or mental health (of personnel), or compromising their professional future,” the AP reported.

According to French law, moral harassment is punishable by a year in prison or a fine of 15,000 euros (about $16,800).

According to the prosecutor’s report, 50-year-old Michel left a note in July 2009 that said, “I’m taking my life because of my work at France Telecom. It’s the only reason,” the Associated Press reported. The note also detailed the “permanent sense of urgency, overwork, absence of training, the total disorganization of the company,” and “management by terror.” And in June of that same year, 37-year-old Christel “slashed her veins,” according to the AP, in front of her superiors who had told her that day that she was going to be transferred. In March of that year, 52-year-old Herve attempted to jump out of the office building window but was stopped by his peers. In September of that year, a 32-year-old woman also jumped out of the office building. And in July of 2008, 53-year-old Jean-Michel jumped in front of a train while he was on a call with his union reps.

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In April 2011, a 57-year-old worker who had been with the company for 30 years set himself on fire in the company parking lot. François Deschamps, of the CFE-CGC Unsa union, told AFP that the man, who at the time of his death worked at a call center, was forced to change jobs often. “Those enforced changes meant he had to sell his house,” Deschamps said. “He had written to the management on several occasions and in my understanding had no reply. I saw him two or three weeks ago. I did not feel like he was on the verge of suicide.”

The former executives are on trial for their conduct after a company restructuring in 2006, which involved cutting 22,000 jobs and changes to 14,000 others. The series of suicides occurred between 2007 and 2010. “I’ll get them out one way or another,” Lombard reportedly told senior managers during a meeting in October 2006. “Through the door or through the window.”

If you or someone you know is having a crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

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