France Telecom charged with mental harassment in suicides probe

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France Telecom SA was charged with mental harassment by a judge who is leading an investigation into employee suicides and depression at the country's largest phone company.

France Telecom was charged on Friday by Judge Pascal Gand in an investigation sparked by a labor union complaint that reorganization efforts to make the former monopoly more competitive had contributed to workers' psychological issues, the company said.

France Telecom "denies having put in place a policy deliberately aimed at causing suffering in the workplace in order to encourage people to leave," according to an e-mailed statement by the company.

France Telecom suspended its restructuring plans in 2009 and Chief Executive Officer Didier Lombard stepped down in 2010 after more than 30 people killed themselves as the company struggled to cope with intensifying competition. Most of the workers when Lombard left had protected status that made it difficult to fire them and the company instead gave employees meaningless jobs to force them out, driving some to take their own lives, the unions said.

Lombard was charged earlier this week as well with mental harassment. He denied the allegations in an open letter posted on the Le Monde website on July 4.

"At no point were these plans conceived and put in place by France Telecom directed against employees," Lombard wrote in a statement to the newspaper. "They were meant to save the company and its employees, and to open up new career paths in the new digital world."

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