Woman Sues Company for Paying Her to Do Nothing for 20 Years

A French woman is taking telecom giant Orange to court for “moral harassment and discrimination at work,” accusing the company of paying her for 20 years without giving her any tasks.

Laurence Van Wassenhove was recruited as a civil servant by France Telecom in 1993 before the company was taken over by Orange. Her original employer knew that she was hemiplegic – partial paralysis of the face and limbs – from birth and suffered from epilepsy, and offered her a position adapted to her medical conditions. She worked as a secretary and in the HR department until 2002 when she asked to be transferred to another region of France. Her request was approved, but her new workplace was not adapted to her needs, and an occupational medicine report confirmed that the position was not suited for her. Despite this, Orange allegedly failed to make any adjustments to her job, preferring to pay her full salary for the next 20 years, without giving her anything to do.

Photo: Christine Hume/Unsplash

Despite Orange’s best efforts to ignore Van Wassenhove, the disabled woman did her best to report the situation to the government and the High Authority for the Fight against Discrimination. In 2015, a mediator appointed by Orange was mandated to resolve the situation, but things didn’t improve at all, as the company continued to pay her without assigning her any tasks. Her lawyers claim that the telecom giant was thus trying to coerce her into quitting her job.

“They prefer to pay her than make her work,” Laurence’s lawyer said, adding that the woman has filed a complaint against the company and four of its managers for “moral harassment and discrimination at work linked to her health condition.”

“Work for a person with a disability means having a place in society, recognition, social bonds that are created,” the woman’s lawyer said. In this case, Laurence Van Wassenhove was denied all this by “being put on the shelf” for 20 years in the hope that she would quit.


French newspaper La Dépêche contacted Orange about Van Wassnehove’s case and the company said that it had done everything to ensure that the woman worked in the best conditions possible. The company also claimed to have taken the woman’s “personal social situation” into account and to have paid her the full salary continuously, plus several non-refundable aids. “A return to work in adapted positions” was apparently also planned, but it never materialized because the employee was regularly on sick leave.

Four years ago, we wrote about another bizarre case, where a French man sued his employer over a boring job that eventually made him depressed.

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