Apparently, it is possible to be too sexy for your job. Debrahlee Lorenzana claims she was fired by her bosses at Citibank because they told her she was too good-looking and drew too much attention. She says other female employees got away with far more provocative clothing -- it's just the way she fills hers out.
"They were showing their cleavage, they were wearing mini skirts, and I wasn't doing any of that," she says. She claims was given a list of inappropriate clothing items that she was not to wear. It included things like turtlenecks, pencil skirts, fitted suits and 3-inch heels: "basically what every woman in New York wears to go to work," she says. But on her, her superiors allegedly said it was "too distracting."
The 33-year-old single mother who moved from Puerto Rico to find work has always been a head turner. Elizabeth Dwoskin of New York's Village Voice describes her this way: "At five-foot-six and 125 pounds, with soft eyes and flawless bronze skin... a head-turning beauty." (See more photos of Debrahlee.)
Lorenzana says that this is the first time her looks have gotten her fired. Her professional efforts have received rave reviews, awards and citations from companies like the Municipal Credit Union, Metropolitan Hospital in Queens and Bank of America.
But the Citibank branch in Manhattan's Chrysler Building was different, she says. She believed that she was hired, during the height of the financial crisis, for her competency, but then one of her female colleagues let it slip that the branch had a reputation for hiring attractive females, and they knew she'd get the job the second she walked in.
She did her job well, and brought in a lot of new business; but before long, she was told that, "as a result of the shape of her figure, such clothes were purportedly 'too distracting' for her male colleagues and supervisors to bear," according to her lawsuit.
Lorenzana attempted to comply -- she tried to "dress down," coming to work without makeup, not straightening her hair and wearing flat shoes. But that drew flack as well, and she was instructed not to do that. It seems she just couldn't win.
So she complained to Human Resources, and when she got no response from that department, she complained to their superiors. Finally she was given a transfer, to the Rockefeller Center Branch, where she was put to work in telephone sales, something she wasn't familiar with, and was eventually fired for "disciplinary problems and poor performance."
One of the complaints in her file stated that she had come in late on two specific dates. Further investigation showed that those two days fell on a Saturday and Sunday, days the branch was closed. Citibank is not commenting on the case.
Lorenzana's attorney, Jack Tuckner, who specializes in women's rights issues, says that they're not seeking exorbitant damages or revenge, but rather acknowledgment. She could receive lost wages and attorneys fees, but large emotional distress compensation and punitive damages are not the goal. The legacy that Lorenzana wishes to leave is that a person should not be treated differently because of appearance. "In this country, you can fight City Hall, and you can fight Citibank," he says.
Alas, the issue of sexual discrimination will never be settled by a judge and jury. As a condition of her employment, Lorenzana signed a mandatory-arbitration clause, so an arbitrator will have to settle the suit.
In the meantime, Lorezana is gainfully employed at another bank, albeit at a lower salary. "I am working in the industry, still in banking, wearing the same clothes that I wore at Citibank and no problem," she says.
Perhaps it was just that one branch that found her too hot to handle.
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