Debrahlee Lorenzana, who was fired from her $70K per year job as a business banker at a Citibank branch in NYC last year, has filed a sexual-harassment lawsuit against the financial institution because, according to her, she was let go because she's too beautiful and her bosses couldn't handle it. True story. The 33-year-old single mother (pictured), who hails from Puerto Rico, tells the Village Voice her bosses said they couldn't concentrate because her appearance was inappropriate and distracting.
So, she was told to cover up -- instead of pencil skirts, form-fitted suits and 3-inch Louboutins, she was to wear looser fit clothing. When she refused. She was shown the door, but other girls who were dressier much more provocative than she was, weren't fired.
In late 2008, she recalls, the two managers called her into [branch manager, Craig Fisher's] office. She remembers that she was wearing a red camisole, beige pants, and a navy suit jacket. This is how she tells it: "They said, 'Deb, we need to talk to you about your work attire. . . . Your pants are too tight.' I said, 'I'm sorry, my pants are not too tight! If you want to talk about inappropriate clothes, go downstairs and look at some of the tellers!' "
Citibank does have a dress-code policy, which says clothing must not be provocative, but does not go into specifics, and managers have wide discretion. But Lorenzana points out that, unlike her, some of the tellers dressed in miniskirts and low-cut blouses. "And when they bend down," Lorenzana says, "anyone can see what God gave them!"Poor Debrahlee. She says it's just not easy being so damn beautiful.
Then the managers gave her a list of clothing items she would not be allowed to wear: turtlenecks, pencil skirts, and fitted suits. And three-inch heels. "As a result of her tall stature, coupled with her curvaceous figure," her suit says, Lorenzana was told "she should not wear classic high-heeled business shoes, as this purportedly drew attention to her body in a manner that was upsetting to her easily distracted male managers."
"I couldn't believe what I was hearing," Lorenzana recalls. "I said, 'You gotta be kidding me!' I was like, 'Too distracting? For who? For you? My clients don't seem to have any problem.' "
The managers instructed her to wear looser clothing. Lorenzana refused. "I don't have the money to buy a new wardrobe," she says, referring to her work outfits. "I shop where everyone else shops—at Zara!" Lorenzana recalls leaving the meeting feeling humiliated. Other female employees "were able to wear such clothing because they were short, overweight, and they didn't draw much attention," she later wrote in a letter describing the meeting to Human Resources, "but since I was five-foot-six, 125 pounds, with a figure, it wasn't 'appropriate.' " She was also furious. "Are you saying that just because I look this way genetically, that this should be a curse for me?"
That same afternoon, she says, she called Human Resources. "I felt it was inappropriate for two male managers to pull me aside like that," she says. "I felt they were attacking me. In most places, if you are going to address a woman about anything that has to do with her personal appearance, you want to address it with a female employee there."
In the weeks that followed, Lorenzana says she called HR up to three or four times a day. An e-mail, she says, finally brought action: A human resources manager named Morgan Putman came to the branch in January and interviewed employees. Lorenzana says she had taken two pictures of female colleagues to show HR officials. One was of a woman wearing a grayish—and very short—silk dress. The other was of a woman wearing leather boots with three-inch spike heels. "Some tellers would wear their pants so tight, it was like they had a permanent wedgie," says Lorenzana. "It was totally inappropriate."
After the HR visit, she says, things got markedly worse. Lorenzana says her bosses made incessant comments about her clothes. She tried to dress down in ways that didn't involve clothes—pulling her hair back, coming to work some days without makeup, but it didn't make a difference. "I could have worn a paper bag, and it would not have mattered," she says. "If it wasn't my shirt, it was my pants. If it wasn't my pants, it was my shoes. They picked on me every single day." Still, she continued to dress up for work—her brand of femininity is also cultural. "Where I'm from," she says, switching into Spanish to explain it, "women dress up—like put on makeup and do their nails—to go to the supermarket. And I'm not talking trashy, you know, like in the Heights. I was raised very Latin, you know? We're feminine. A woman in Puerto Rico takes care of herself. The Puerto Rican women here put down our flag."
"It's so tiring. My entire life, I've been dealing with this. 'Cause people say, 'Oh, you got a job because you look that way.' So you gotta work four times harder to prove you are capable. To prove you didn't get this because of the way you look. First, I'm a woman, then I'm an immigrant, and I have my accent. At Citibank, when they were picking on me for every little thing, I couldn't take it anymore!....If being less good-looking," she says, "means being happy and finding love and not being sexually harassed and having a job where no one bothers you and no one questions you because of your looks, then, definitely, I'd want that. I think of that every day."
Because she signed a mandatory-arbitration clause as a condition of her employment, Debrahlee's case will not be heard by a jury.