An office worker at a lingerie warehouse claims she was fired for her busty physique and form-fitting outfits. With celebrity attorney Gloria Allred by her side, Lauren Odes announced on Monday that she had filed a complaint with the federal government for gender and religious discrimination.
If a woman claims that she was wronged because of her sexy body, you can bet the media is there to cover her travails. But the news cameras tend to disappear during the long slog of the legal process. If the case is subsequently dismissed or quietly settled, there's hardly a murmur in the media, and the struggles of these women to find new work doesn't make for an easy headline. Several women have gone through this: the media frenzy, the mocking comments, and the lengthy and quiet fight.
Allred's former client, Debrahlee Lorenzana, who in 2010 claimed that she was terminated by Citigroup for her "distracting" body, came out yesterday to give Odes some advice: Don't employ Gloria Allred.
"The only times I saw her was when the media was there," Lorenzana told New York's Daily News, adding that she was left to fight the bank all by her lonesome self. "It was a nightmare," she said.
The 35-year-old Lorenzana claims Allred wanted her to sign a confidentiality agreement, but she refused, "because that would be waiving my freedom of speech in this country," she told AOL Jobs.
Allred eventually dropped her, Lorenzana claims, forcing her to master the intricacies of employment law herself. She never wanted 15 minutes of fame, she says, and has declined offers to pose for Playboy and take part in "Celebrity Apprentice." "I just wanted to make an example," she says. "I knew that I didn't do anything wrong."
Allred said in a statement that she and co-counsel put in hundreds of hours of work into Lorenzana's case. "We did everything that we could to help her," she said, "and the many boxes of documents containing our work product and the evidence that we worked to obtain prove that we did everything that we could."
Lorenzana wouldn't discuss the details of her arbitration, but seemed frustrated by it. She wanted a jury trial, but Citibank had made her waive her rights to that before she got the job; it was a piece of paper tucked in with her W2 and medical forms.
She says that's common practice at big companies and also profoundly unfair, because Citibank then hires and pays the arbitrators, and if they don't go their way, Citibank just won't hire and pay them again. Lorenzana ended up representing herself against the "big giant," and its army of lawyers. The odds were stacked against her.
But she doesn't regret anything. Lorenzana is now one of the best performing financial advisors at Chase Investment Services Corp., she says. She's also campaigning for the Arbitration Fairness Act, which would prohibit companies from forcing their employees to sign that bit of paper, and waive their right to a fair trial.
"I'm happy for what I did," Lorenzana says. "If I served as a role model for women to stand up."
In 2003, Harvard assistant librarian Desiree Goodwin (pictured below) claimed that she'd been passed over for promotion 16 times because of her looks and clothes. She sued the Ivy League school for gender and race discrimination, but ended up losing her case. Harvard flatly denied all the charges, and filed a countersuit for its $150,000 of legal fees, which it lost. Goodwin says she still endured financial hardship, and used the equity on her home to pay for all her costs.
"I didn't know about the law," she says. "The first year I didn't have a lawyer. I thought common sense was all I needed. I didn't know how far people would go to protect their reputations. They're willing to twist the truth. They're willing to outright lie."
Goodwin says the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed her lawsuit two weeks past the deadline, because they were in cahoots with Harvard's lawyers. She was forced to take her case to federal court, which is notoriously more sympathetic to employers. The jury was all white and included only one woman.
"I didn't really have a chance of having a jury of my peers," she says.
Goodwin still works as a librarian at Harvard, and has been there for 18 years now. She applied for other jobs but never got them, she believes, because of her past lawsuit.
But Goodwin still stands by her actions. "I have no regrets," she says. "I don't know what it would have been like if I'd taken a different path. I don't know what would have happened if I'd played it safe."
"We live in a culture that tells women they should be attractive but not too attractive to succeed. You have to feminine, not masculine, but not too feminine," she says. It's especially difficult, she adds, for women of color who come from poverty, like herself.
"I will continue to be an advocate for women who are held back for reasons they shouldn't be," she says.
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