Is This Woman Too Hot To Be a Banker?

Debrahlee Lorenzana says her no-account bosses fired her over her looks

Lorenzana left the workplace to get married, but that relationship went sour after a brief time, and in September 2008, she was ready to go back to work. It was the height of the Wall Street crisis, but she lucked out. She got an interview with Citibank for a job at its recently opened branch in the Chrysler Building.

At the interview, she recalls, she wore a black Armani wrap dress and simple Christian Louboutin pumps. (The dress was form-fitting and tight in the bust: She says one size up would have been too big for her.) She remembers that the branch manager, Craig Fisher, was polite, asking her about strategies for acquiring new business and whether she had other job offers. Since she already had an offer from Washington Mutual, Fisher proposed a salary of $70,000 with three weeks' vacation, she says. Her job title was business banker, providing services to small businesses. There were three business bankers at the Chrysler Building branch; Lorenzana was the only woman.

When she started the job, she says, a colleague told her that the branch was "pretty much known for hiring pretty girls," and that she knew Lorenzana was going to be hired from the moment she came in for her interview. "So here I am," Lorenzana recalls, "thinking I got hired because of my capabilities, and now you're telling me it's because of my physical appearance? Oh, great."

Carrie Schechter
All business: This photo, unlike the others, was arranged by her lawyer for her suit.
All business: This photo, unlike the others, was arranged by her lawyer for her suit.

However, 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.

Other problems also popped up. In order to provide services to a client, a banker needs to become certified to do things like open a checking account or take a loan application. Lorenzana says Fisher didn't send her to enough of the required training sessions, which meant she wasn't authorized to do something as simple as order a debit card for a client and was forced to rely on her colleagues for favors. "When I complained," Lorenzana says, "Craig would say, 'Just go ahead and bring in new business.' So I went out every day and looked for business." But then, she says, when clients would come into the branch asking for her—or would fax papers to the branch with her name on them—Fisher would give those hard-won accounts to male colleagues.

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.' "

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?"

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