French telecom company Orange and three former senior executives have been found guilty of collective moral harassment in the way they handled job cuts, which led to staff suicides.
The ex-senior managers at the company, formerly known as France Télécom, had been accused of designing policies that would force thousands of staff to leave the firm.
The judgment marks the first time that a French court has recognised “institutional harassment”.
A trial earlier this year heard how there had been 19 suicides among employees in the late 2000s, during which the firm and its executives created conditions they knew would push some employees into despair.
A further 12 staff had attempted suicide, while another eight experienced severe depression.
The company’s former president and CEO Didier Lombard has been sentenced to a year in prison; while Louis-Pierre Wenès, his deputy; and former director of HR Olivier Barberot were sentenced to a year in prison, suspended for eight months. Each of the men were fined €15,000 (£12,761).
Four other executives were found guilty of complicity and were given four-month suspended sentences and fined €5,000 each. Orange was fined €75,000 and ordered to pay hundreds of thousands in damages – the exact total of which has not yet been revealed.
In 2007, as part of plans to shed 22,000 jobs and retrain at last 10,000 staff, Lombard told senior managers: “I’ll get them out one way or another, through the window or through the door.”
One employee died after he set himself on fire outside the company’s office in Mérignac near Bordeaux. His daughter Noémie told the court: “My father’s death meant [management’s] objective had been achieved.”
A technician stabbed himself during a management meeting, while another employee killed himself after leaving a letter stating: “What led to this is my job. France Télécom is responsible for my suicide.”
A number of other suicides could not be linked directly and solely with their work.
Lombard’s lawyer said his client intended to appeal the court’s decision.