Is This Woman Too Hot To Be a Banker?

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

That same afternoon, she says, she called Human Resources. "I felt it was inappropriate for two male managers to pull me aside like that," she says. "I felt they were attacking me. In most places, if you are going to address a woman about anything that has to do with her personal appearance, you want to address it with a female employee there."

In the weeks that followed, Lorenzana says she called HR up to three or four times a day. An e-mail, she says, finally brought action: A human resources manager named Morgan Putman came to the branch in January and interviewed employees. Lorenzana says she had taken two pictures of female colleagues to show HR officials. One was of a woman wearing a grayish—and very short—silk dress. The other was of a woman wearing leather boots with three-inch spike heels. "Some tellers would wear their pants so tight, it was like they had a permanent wedgie," says Lorenzana. "It was totally inappropriate."

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."

More photos of Debrahlee Lorenzana here.
Carrie Schechter
Carrie Schechter


Follow our continuing coverage of Debrahlee Lorenzana here.

According to court documents and her letters to HR, Lorenzana continued to ask for more training sessions, but didn't get them. Meanwhile, clients whose business she had drummed up were being handed off to her colleagues. An April 2009 quarterly report showed that she was behind the other business bankers in monthly sales credits. On June 24, she received a letter saying that she was being put on final notice, that she was bringing in too little business. But there was something strange about the letter, which was signed by Craig Fisher, and which put her on probation for six months. The letter said she had come in late on June 6 and 7. This struck her as odd. She looked at the dates. They were a Saturday and a Sunday—the branch was closed on those days. In addition to raising the issue of her bosses' unfairly giving her business to colleagues, she pointed out those incorrect dates to Human Resources.

One day in late spring 2009, Lorenzana says, Craig Fisher told her to move some files into storage in the basement from the second floor. The previous day, she recalled, a male colleague had been given the same instructions, and because there were a lot of heavy files, he came into work in flip-flops and jeans. So she brought in flip-flops. But Fisher told her that she had to take off the flip-flops and wear high heels while moving the heavy, paper-filled boxes, her suit alleges.

The high-heels incident infuriated her, she says. She was getting worn down. On June 25, at 3:30 p.m., she sent a long-winded e-mail to two regional vice presidents whom she had never met, bypassing Morgan Putman at Human Resources. It was the kind of e-mail that could have used a proofreader, one a lawyer might advise a client not to send without some serious editing. (English is not her first language.) But she summed up her experiences with Fisher and Claibourne well and talked about "the cruelty of a hostile work environment," where she was harassed "on a daily basis." She ended by writing that "Mr. Fisher stated he is good friends with lots of people in the organization giving me . . . reason to believe that nothing will happen to correct the situation going on at branch 357. I have requested for the second time a transfer. . . . I came to Citibank with high expectations. Please I just want to work in a fair work environment where everyone is equal. Thank you in advance for your attention in this matter."

The VPs never responded in writing, but she sent follow-up e-mails in which she continued to report incidents at work. Less than a month after her June 25 e-mail, she was transferred to a Citibank branch at Rockefeller Center. The way she looked or dressed didn't draw any comments there, she says, but that branch didn't need another business banker. In mid-July, she e-mailed Morgan Putman, thanking her for the transfer, but pointing out that she was working as a telemarketer, which wasn't her job title.

In August, her manager at the Rockefeller Center branch—a woman—sat her down and fired her. The female manager mentioned the problems related to her clothing at the previous branch. She did not mention work performance, Lorenzana says. The manager said she was sorry, but Lorenzana wasn't fit for the culture of Citibank.

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