Fired for Being Hot?

3 06 2010

Debrahlee Lorenzana

The Village Voice reported on Tuesday that 33-year-old banker Debrahlee Lorenzana, who is apparently very hot, has filed a suit against Citigroup claiming she was fired because her looks were too distracting to her male coworkers at Citibank.  The article explains:

…she liked the job, the pay, and the prospects for advancement. For the first two months, she says, she was hardly in the office—she was either out drumming up business or attending training sessions. But once she started spending more time in the office, things began to go downhill.

Interviews and her lawsuit, which was filed in November 2009, tell her story: Fisher and another manager, Peter Claibourne, started making offhanded comments about her appearance, she says. She was told not to wear fitted business suits. She should wear makeup because she looked sickly without it. (She had purposefully stopped wearing makeup in hopes of attracting less attention.) Once, she recalls, she came in to work without having blow-dried her hair straight—it is naturally curly—and Fisher told a female colleague to pass on a message that she shouldn’t come into work without straightening it.

In late 2008, she recalls, the two managers called her into 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!”

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.’ ”

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.”

Eventually, Lorenzana received a letter saying she was fired for “bringing in too little business” and allegedly coming in late on June 6 and June 7, which turned out to be a Saturday and Sunday that the branch was closed.

Now, I don’t have any pictures of Lorenzana at work, so I can’t say for sure that her outfits weren’t entirely inappropriate, regardless of her body.  But as a woman who works in an office full of men, I can’t imagine how humiliating it would be if even one of them, once, commented on the appropriateness of my outfit, asked me to wear makeup and straighten my hair every day or forbid me from wearing a specific item of clothing to the office.  They told her she couldn’t wear three-inch heels, pencil skirts or turtlenecks?  That’s like the basic office uniform for women.

Gender relations in the workplace can already be really delicate and awkward, even when the men are perfectly respectful.  It is easy for a woman to feel like her abilities are being underestimated or underutilized because of her gender, and I can guarantee that every woman who works in a predominantly male office is frequently insecure over what to wear.  You don’t want to dress like a man, but you also don’t want to attract any kind of awkward sexual attention, so you constantly have to ask yourself, Is this skirt too short? Is this neckline too low?  Are these leggings too thin, and do they really function as a pants substitute?  This is not really fair, because I don’t think men ever have to ask themselves these questions.  But for them to then go and pile on a woman’s insecurities by incessantly commenting on her appearance?

For the record, I think it’s completely ridiculous for a man to blame a woman for his own inability to concentrate when she is around.  Are you serious?  He should be fired.  Pull it together, you prehistoric apes.  I know plenty of men whose brains would not be reduced to piles of useless puddy over an attractive woman in the office.  If you’re a man, and you want to talk to a particular woman in the office about dress code, then bring the entire office in for a staff meeting, men and women, and remind them all of the dress code.   Lorenzana’s boss could have totally avoided being a creep by simply sending out a memo to the whole staff saying, “Dress code reminder: men should not wear shorts and flip flops and severely wrinkled shirts in the office, women should not wear excessively low-cut shirts or tight clothing.  Some of you are riding the line between appropriate and  inappropriate, so if you’re going to err, err on the side of conservative.”

Maybe attach some pictures from magazines and websites explaining what’s appropriate and not.  Boom, done.  You can’t tell a woman not to wear heels or turtlenecks, you can’t say ANYTHING to a woman about straightening her hair, and any dress code you hold one woman to, you hold them all to, regardless of body type.  This should go without saying.

I’ll admit that Lorenzana does sound a little bit obnoxious from her interviews, but I’m glad this came up, because it reminds us that sexual harassment and discrimination continue to be alive and well in the workplace, and nothing about that is acceptable.

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9 responses

3 06 2010
bros

this is a weird story-I mean, I really doubt that she was the MOST distracting female to ever work in a citibank office. however, just from hearing about all the things they told her to wear or not to wear like turtlenecks (really? WTF) to talking to her about her hair to then telling her to wear MORE makeup-all the messages are mixed, contradictory and weird, which means they were for some reason, really really interested in what she wore, which is totally inappropriate. I too think it is really weird when it becomes a woman’s problem that simply by existing and wearing the fashions of today, it is somehow a problem for men and the woman needs to be reprimanded or punished. this office was clearly unhealthily invested in her appearance.

unfortunately, this assignment of blame is played out in other contexts as well. Fatema Mernissi, a Moroccan feminist social theorist wrote a really interesting book about Islamic rationales for purdah in “Beyond the Veil” where she argues that it is Islamic constructions and understanding of the active female sexuality that men need to be protected from, otherwise civilized society cannot function-that veiling protects men, not women. It’s an incredibly interesting book and her argument can obviously be taken outside of its Islamic moorings.

3 06 2010
geof

Mernissi is good! In Sheherazade Goes West, she talks about two understandings of the harem. In the West, the harem is viewed as an exotic sex zoo full of vapid sex objects. She argues that the Persian flavor of Islam recognizes women as the mental equals of men (see stats of women at university in Iran, sort of supports this argument). So, the harem is not as hot bimbo storage, but as a control on the formidable triple threat of brains, ass, titties. Think about 1001 Arabian Nights, wherein Sheheresade a girl in the harem successfully tricks the King until he finally doesn’t kill her and marries her instead. The story not only recognizes womens’ attractive power, but also their mental powers.
My best guess is Citibank didn’t want anyone to think they were running a Persian style harem, so they fire anyone who is both smart and hot.

3 06 2010
EdwardDandyHands

I didn’t know Citigroup had a sandwich making & Baked goods business unit?

jk.

Don’t yell at me.

3 06 2010
districtramblings

you’re on thin ice, dandyhands.

3 06 2010
Mikey

I too, have been known to struggle with dressing overly sexy at the office. I can’t help it if I remind some people of a Fabio-type romance novel cover boy. It’s soothing to know I’m not alone…

3 06 2010
ALEX

I don’t know. I find it hard to feel bad for the amazingly hot girl who wanted to work for an absurdly rich bank that works more towards profits than towards an ethical track record. If she were truly an asset to such a business then she would surely find another place to work where they would be happy to let her make them money for them. It is ultimately only about that. I have my doubts that she did a good job convincing them that she is profitable.

That being said, nobody should ever tell you what to wear.

3 06 2010
geof

You have made clear your position on hot women with whom you will never bone: they make you angry and you resent them. Clearly, Citibank is full of people exactly like Alex.

3 06 2010
bros

Also, I suggest working in an office of only gay men if you are a woman. they love everything I wear! the more fashion forward the better! my boss will interrupt meetings to be like, I LOVE your boots, those are GREAT. and the other one always threatens to borrow clothes for drag shows. no problems with clothes in my office now-compared to when I used to work with politicians-now those guys are a bunch of sleazeballs.

3 06 2010
Vjane

Thank you bros – I am going to read “Beyond the Veil – I have to do a book review next year at my book club and Mernissi should bring them to attention.

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