Debrahlee Lorenzana is sizzling hot. At five-foot-six and 125 pounds, with soft eyes and flawless bronze skin, she is a head-turning beauty. And too sexy to be a banker!
She is one heck of a lady, one who does not take any form of discrimination lying down. When Citibank fired her as a banker in the summer of 2009 citing her work performance, she got even hotter. Like a female David taking on Goliath, she sued Citigroup, claiming that she was fired solely because her bosses thought she was too hot and sexy.
Her bosses told her they couldn’t concentrate on their work because her appearance was too distracting. I don’t know what they actually mean but I suspect it must have something to do with their “one-eyed trouser snakes” getting too hard for their comfort. Debrahlee Lorenzana is like a snake charmer…she makes her male colleagues’ one-eye snakes stand up throbbing! They ordered her to stop wearing turtlenecks, pencil skirts, three-inch heels, or fitted business suits. Lorenzana, a 33-year-old single mom, pointed out female colleagues whose clothing was far more revealing than hers.
“They said their body shapes were different from mine, and I drew too much attention,” she says.
“Men are kind of drawn to her,” says Tanisha Ritter, a friend and former colleague who also works as a banker and praises Lorenzana’s work habits. “I’ve seen men turn into complete idiots around her. But it’s not her fault that they act this way, and it shouldn’t be her problem.”
Jack Tuckner, Debrahlee Lorenzana’s attorney, has this to say:”It’s like saying that we can’t think anymore ’cause our penises are standing up—and we cannot think about you except in a sexual manner—and we can’t look at you without wanting to have sexual intercourse with you. And it’s up to you, gorgeous woman, to lessen your appeal so that we can focus!”
This isn’t your typical sexual-harassment lawsuit. Sexual-harassment suits more often than not involve claim that women are coerced into looking sexier or are subjected to being pawed. Lorenzana claimed that her bosses told her she was just too attractive. When she raised hell and refused to do anything about it, she lost her job.
Debbie Lorenzana—whose mother is Puerto Rican and father is Italian—came to New York from Puerto Rico 12 years ago. She was 21 and pregnant, and had a degree as an emergency medical technician from a technical college in Manatí, a small city on the northern coast. The father, she says, didn’t want to have anything to do with her or the baby. So she moved back to the States, where she had lived in her mid-teens (pinballing between relatives’ houses and group homes), and took care of her elderly grandparents in Connecticut. After her son was born, she moved to Queens to stay with a friend.
She got her first job in finance: working as a sales representative at the Municipal Credit Union in 2002. She moved to Jersey City, worked long hours and was considered a successful rep.
She moved on to other jobs in the financial-services industry. After a stint selling health insurance to immigrants at Metropolitan Hospital in Queens, the hospital cited her in November 2003 for “providing world-class customer service” and for being the number one enroller in the office.
In August 2006, the district managers at Bank of America gave her a Customer Higher Standards Award on diploma paper, on which they wrote: “Debrahlee: You deserve to be recognized for going above and beyond.”
She is without doubt a very capable lady, one destined for success!
In September 2008, she got a job as a business banker with Citibank at its recently opened branch in the Chrysler Building. For the first two months, 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.
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 pointed out that some of the tellers dressed in miniskirts and low-cut blouses. “And when they bend down,” Lorenzana said, “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, fitted suits and three-inch heels. Because of her tall stature, coupled with her curvaceous figure, she should not wear classic high-heeled business shoes, as this purportedly drew attention to her body in a manner that was so distracting to her male managers.
She was transferred to a Citibank branch at Rockefeller Center after she had sent a series of emails to Human Resources and two regional vice-presidents to voice her grievances.
In August 2009, her manager at the Rockefeller Center branch—a woman—fired her. The female manager mentioned the problems related to her clothing at the previous branch. She did not mention work performance. The manager said she was sorry, but Lorenzana wasn’t fit for the culture of Citibank.
Because Citibank made Lorenzana sign a mandatory-arbitration clause as a condition of her employment, the case will never end up before a jury or judge. An arbitrator will decide on her case, her Los Angeles-based attorney Gloria Allred said.
Now Debrahlee is again facing the prospect of being fired again. Claiming she’s tarnishing the financial industry’s reputation, her current employer, JPMorgan Chase, now threatens to fire her if she continues to speak to the press about her Citibank lawsuit.
The manager said she had violated an employee code of conduct that prohibits employees from bashing the financial industry as a whole. They gave her a copy of the code of conduct in writing.
“They said I was damaging the reputation of the entire industry,” Lorenzana said.
Here’s the code of conduct she’s talking about: “The concept of relating to JPMorgan Chase businesses is broadly defined and generally includes anything related to the financial services industry, the firm itself, and its businesses.”
“She’s making this industry look bad when we have Goldman Sachs selling exotic derivatives and cheating their clients behind their backs?” attorney Jack Tuckner says. “These are the ‘banksters’ of the world. Why they are so tone deaf is really unfathomable.”
Under city law, it is illegal to fire someone who has spoken up about an illegal practice.
Lorenzana, for her part, says she is walking on eggshells, but will continue to show up to work until she is fired. “I will report to work every single day, until they say, you’re fired.”