By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Everything about Debrahlee Lorenzana is hot. Even her name sizzles. At five-foot-six and 125 pounds, with soft eyes and flawless bronze skin, she is J.Lo curves meets Jessica Simpson rack meets Audrey Hepburn elegance—a head-turning beauty.
In many ways, the story of her life has been about getting attention from men—both the wanted and the unwanted kind. But when she got fired last summer from her job as a banker at a Citibank branch in Midtown—her bosses cited her work performance—she got even hotter. She sued Citigroup, claiming that she was fired solely because her bosses thought she was too hot.
This is the way Debbie Lorenzana tells it: Her bosses told her they couldn't concentrate on their work because her appearance was too distracting. They ordered her to stop wearing turtlenecks. She was also forbidden to wear 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.
As Lorenzana's lawsuit puts it, her bosses told her that "as a result of the shape of her figure, such clothes were purportedly 'too distracting' for her male colleagues and supervisors to bear."
"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."
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. Citibank officials won't comment on the suit.
Her attorney, Jack Tuckner, who calls himself a "sex-positive" women's-rights lawyer, is the first one to say his client is a babe. But so what? For him, it all boils down to self-control. "It's like saying," Tuckner argues, "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, if there is such a thing. For one thing, such suits often claim that women are coerced into looking more sexy or are subjected to being pawed. Lorenzana claims that her bosses basically told her she was just too attractive. And when she raised hell and refused to do anything about it—as if there was anything she really could do 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. Then she got her first job in finance: working as a sales representative at the Municipal Credit Union, in 2002. She moved to Jersey City and worked long hours. She was successful.
In April 2003, the Municipal Credit Union named her its sales rep of the month. On the other hand, she says, a manager once called her into his office to ask her opinion of a photograph. The picture he called up on his computer was of his penis. She complained about the incident. In her June 2003 resignation letter—written just two months after she was honored as a top employee—she wrote, "Due to the complaint I made regarding sexual harassment, my work environment has become hostile, painful, and unbearable."
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 says she loved to work, and eventually was earning close to $70,000 a year. "My ex-boyfriend says it's my Spic pride," she says. "As long as I have two hands and two legs, and can still walk, I will always work, so my son will have a roof over his head and food."
And she will be well-dressed. Lorenzana is, by her own admission, a shopaholic. She shops for her work clothes at Zara, but when she has money, she says, she spends it on designer clothes. She has five closets full of Burberry, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and Roberto Cavalli. In her son's closet, there's a row of tiny Lacoste, Dolce & Gabbana, and Ralph Lauren T-shirts. She says her love of fine clothes is a result of her growing up poor—she recalls running a high school marathon barefoot because she couldn't afford sneakers.