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.