Lawyers representing plaintiffs in a power harassment lawsuit filed at the Tokyo District Court explain why they decided to seek legal action in Tokyo on Oct. 17. (Video by Hideaki Ishiyama)

Relatives and colleagues of a woman who committed suicide after allegedly falling victim to power harassment at a recruitment firm where she worked are suing the company and its president for 88 million yen ($782,000).

In the lawsuit filed at the Tokyo District Court on Oct. 17, the plaintiffs argued that the 30-year-old woman took her life due to repeated harassment by the president of Tokyo-based Be Higher Inc., which specializes in the gaming, manga and anime industries.

The requested amount of damages includes wages that the company withheld from the woman and her colleagues.

The woman and the two male co-workers began working for Be Higher and its affiliates based on an outsourcing agreement with the companies. They entered the contracts between 2006 and 2014.

However, they were effectively treated like Be Hire employees, with the president directly giving them orders.

The president bought them brand-name bags, shoes and other items, and recorded the purchases as loans to him from the company.

He then charged the costs of those items to the staff by naming two of the three workers as loan guarantors around 2016.

He also demanded tens of millions of yen in damages after it emerged that one of the three had given information on wages to an acquaintance, which he insisted is "in breach of a confidentiality agreement."

Soon, the president began deducting the “debts” from their salaries, paying them almost no wages.

When the deceased and her colleagues became unable to pay their rent and living expenses, the president moved them to the company office.

The plaintiffs argued that the president repeatedly screamed abuse at them, such as, “Just you being alive causes me trouble,” and “I only wish you were dead in a traffic accident since my killing you would be a problem.”

He also forced the three workers to report to him every few minutes via the Line app to show that they were working late at night in the office.

The president also kept tabs on their activities via surveillance cameras installed at the office and GPS on their mobile phones. There was no bath in the office, and they had to lay towels on the floor to sleep.

When the woman in February asked the president whether he would be better off if she were dead, he went into a rage, destroyed a computer in front of her and repeatedly ranted at her.

“(If you died) it would only add rubbish,” he was quoted as saying in one of his tirades.

The woman killed herself that afternoon.

When asked for a comment by The Asahi Shimbun, a Be Higher official said the company would consider how to respond to the lawsuit after studying the lawsuit documents.

The plaintiffs contended that withholding wages is illegal, and that a succession of comments by the president and his behavior constituted power harassment that violated their human rights.

After filing the suit, the two plaintiffs who worked with the woman gave a news conference in Tokyo, accompanied by their lawyers.

One of the plaintiffs described the president as having “two faces,” one for clients and the other for his subordinates, which made it extremely difficult for outsiders to notice his power harassment.

The man, 39, said they decided to sue the president and his company in hopes that their legal action would help prevent other incidences of power harassment.

The man said he had thought about quitting his job many times.

One reason he could not was because he thought that if he fled, the woman who was put into debt along with him would have to repay the money for both of them.

“It is power harassment that people are forced to work like slaves after being put into debt,” said Tsuyoshi Fukai, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs.