France Telecom CEO Didier Lombard has faced calls for his resignation in France following the recent suicide of a France Telecom employee, the 24th such incident at the firm in the last 18 months. According to a Financial Times report, France’s opposition socialists and far-left parties have demanded that Lombard resigns immediately and takes “responsibility” for the management practices that unions say have pushed some vulnerable staff members to the edge. France Telecom – the company behind the Orange mobile brand – is still 27 percent-owned by the French state and 65 percent of its estimated 100,000 employees are classed as civil servants. Lombard faced questions at a social affairs committee this week and was told “to take more account of the human factor in work organisation.” He was also criticised by union leaders for his slow response to the problem, which he controversially described recently as a “fashion.”

However, French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party reportedly backed Lombard, condemning the attacks on him as political “lynching.” Lombard is due to stand down in 2011 when he will be replaced by Stéphane Richard, a former chief of staff at the finance ministry who joined France Telecom this month as deputy chief executive in charge of international operations. Richard told the AFP news agency on Tuesday he was “totally behind” Lombard and the timetable for the succession. “Didier Lombard’s mandate runs until mid-2011 and there is no change in this regard,” said France Telecom. “Any speculation to the contrary takes up valuable time that is much better applied to serious matters, including all possible measures to ensure an end to these tragic events.”