By Emmanuel Jarry
PARIS (Reuters) – French telecoms operator Orange <ORAN.PA> has offered to pay compensation to victims and relatives after a series of suicides and attempted suicides at the company in the late 2000s, on the last day of a two-month trial of former bosses over the deaths.
Ex-CEO Didier Lombard, six other former executives and the company itself are accused of moral harassment in the first case of its kind on this scale in France, setting a potential precedent for large businesses.
Between April 2008 and June 2010, prosecutors listed 18 suicides and 13 suicide attempts by employees of Orange, still called France Telecom at the time, when the company was engaged in deep restructuring after its privatisation.
The deaths shocked the nation and raised uncomfortable questions over corporate culture.
Orange’s secretary general, Nicolas Guerin, told the court the company was anticipating requests by victims and their relatives for financial compensation and that it was ready to address them.
“We recognise that the transformation of France Telecom led to individual sufferings, which the company, alas, wasn’t always able to prevent,” he said. “In some cases, these sufferings can be addressed through damages.”
Central to the case is a plan under which the telecoms operator aimed to cut its workforce by 22,000 and redeploy 10,000 workers between 2006 and 2010. Prosecutors believe this plan triggered the wave of suicides.
Lombard, who denied any wrongdoing, faces one year of jail and a fine of 15,000 euros (£13,484) if convicted.
The presiding judge estimated that claims for compensation so far amounted to about 2 million euros ($2.25 million). But this sum could go up, depending on the number of claims.
Orange’s unions have asked for a compensation process and the CFE-OGC union has suggested the accused former executives pay the compensation out of their own pockets.
The Paris court is expected to give its verdict on Dec. 20.
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(Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; Writing by Mathieu Rosemain; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)