Jérôme Coulombel presents himself as a whistleblower. He is director of the litigation department at the Carrefour group, until the day he burns out. 10 years after his departure from the company, he denounces in a documentary, broadcast on Arte, the illegal practices of this retail giant. Carrefour then decides to file a complaint against him. His case will be judged on Tuesday November 22, 2022 at the Caen court.
His path seemed clear. Jérôme Coulombel began his career within the Carrefour group and became, in 20 years, the director of the litigation department. He was one of the Top 100 executives of the brand: “I was doing a job that I was passionate about, I had a great team, frankly everything was going well, it was wonderful”.
But his rise came to an abrupt halt in 2012. Jérôme Coulombel cracks, he burns out. We find him at home, in his garden where he smokes a cigarette: “I’ve never touched a cigarette in 50 years, now I smoke a pack a day” he tells us. It can not do without since 2013, a year after the arrival of a new CEO at the giant Carrefour. Within the service for which he works, the strategy changes and he finds himself in total contradiction with his values. The pressure is increasing day by day.
One morning, his body lets go: “You get up one morning and you’re burning inside, you don’t even know who’s with you anymore. Is it your family? You don’t know”. The still moved man adds:
You’re just charred, annihilated, you can’t walk, you can’t talk, you’re destroyed!
Jérôme Coulombel, whistleblower
One of his former colleagues who wishes to remain anonymous says that he was very popular with employees: “He’s a human person, too human even, that’s what he was accused of”.
He and his family will live in apnea for years. A discomfort that his wife sees grow every day, witness of this life which becomes a test : “He couldn’t even walk straight anymore, he couldn’t drive, he couldn’t do anything. I went with him to the psychiatrist. I asked if he couldn’t decrease the medication so that at least he had a little lucidity during the day. But the doctor told me that if we stop the drugs, there is a risk of suicidal raptus. So here I am, every morning I go to work and in the evening I don’t know if the raptus has passed over there”.
Thanks to his family, the man is gradually climbing the slope. He even resumed an activity and became an independent consultant. In his office, there are files everywhere. From now on, he helps franchise stores in their exchanges with Carrefour: “it comes from all over France” he explains.
Jérôme Coulombel comes out of the silence
Jérôme Coulombel decided to come out of silence last year. He even testifies, with supporting evidence, in a documentary still visible on the Arte website.. He denounces the illegal actions of Carrefour that he found in the files he deals with: “clearly until now there have been slippages as in all branches of mass distribution but never at the national level, never with such a large volume of suppliers, never with the clear approval of the legal department, there I am sincerely fell off my chair.
In his documentary “Hypermarkets, the fall of the empire”, director Rémi Delescluse wanted to bring Jérôme Coulombel out of the shadows. The journalist dismantles point by point a system that will be worth to Carrefour an order to pay a fine of 1.75 million for “restrictive practices of competition”. In such a closed environment, the documents provided by Jérôme Coulombel were invaluable: “You know, a lot of people say in this environment that relations between suppliers and distributors are very conflictual, most of the time these are words. There Jérôme Coulombel brought written elements, documents that we were able to verify from elsewhere. It’s a word that is rare, that is important for the right to information and that’s why it appears in my documentary”. For the journalist, Jérôme Coulombel is indeed a whistleblower.
Carrefour relaunches a complaint filed 3 years ago
But after the broadcast of this survey, Carrefour is relaunching a complaint 3 years earlier for “flight”. The group, which only responds to us by press release, criticizes its former employee for the following fact:
He seized confidential documents likely to cause serious harm to the brand.
Carrefour Group, in a press release
Today pursued by crossroads, he intends to defend himself. For Maître Clément Picard, lawyer for Jérôme Coulombel, there is nothing illegal : “when you take documents and keep them with you, that you have had them in a completely legal way and that you use them in the prud’hommal framework to justify behind the reasons which caused the breach of the contract of work, you have every right to have them”.
Jérôme Coulombel is preparing to answer two other charges: “attempted extortion” and “blackmail”. According to Carrefour, its ex-employee would have tried to obtain disproportionate departure conditions: “It hits me deep inside me, because if I was someone interested, I would have taken the check I was offered when I left the Carrefour group but I didn’t do !”.
A trial on Tuesday, November 22 at the Caen court
It is now up to the courts to shed light on this thorny affair. His trial will be held on Tuesday November 22, 2022 at the Caen court.
Jérôme Coulombel, he is moving forward calmly, especially since this summer thanks to a court judgment which recognizes his burn-out as an occupational disease. Words written in black on white that gave him courage.