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"It's so tiring," Lorenzana tells the Voice. "My entire life, I've been dealing with this. 'Cause people say, 'Oh, you got a job because you look that way.' So you gotta work four times harder to prove you are capable. To prove you didn't get this because of the way you look. First, I'm a woman, then I'm an immigrant, and I have my accent. At Citibank, when they were picking on me for every little thing, I couldn't take it anymore!"
After she was fired, she became depressed and began panicking about how she would afford her car payments and rent, and she applied for unemployment. Last Christmas, she and her son skipped gift-giving.
Meanwhile, she continues to receive unwanted attention. She says she gets hit on constantly and walks on the street as if she were wearing body armor: forward and straight, avoiding everyone's gaze. "If being less good-looking," she says, "means being happy and finding love and not being sexually harassed and having a job where no one bothers you and no one questions you because of your looks, then, definitely, I'd want that. I think of that every day."
In preparation for the lawsuit, lawyer Jack Tuckner had a professional photographer shoot her in various work outfits in his office near Wall Street. There's nothing wrong with the clothes—they're proper business attire. And there's nothing wrong with Lorenzana, who looks really, really good in them.
Obviously, that shouldn't have anything to do with how she's judged in the workplace. But things may not be so clear when the case goes into arbitration. The practice of making employees, as a condition of employment, opt out of their right to sue the company is a common corporate strategy. Under the city's Human Rights Law, she has to prove that "it's more likely than not" that Citibank created a discriminatory and hostile work environment based on gender. She must demonstrate that she was treated differently based on her sartorial choices as a female and that she was fired in close proximity to her complaints of being treated differently. Citibank also has a burden of proof: that it specifically did not create a hostile work environment based on her sex and that it fired her for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons.
Lorenzana can rely on her testimony, her letters to HR, and the testimony of witnesses. Citibank can point to its disciplinary action—the final notice letter—but the letter punishes her for being late on days the bank wasn't even open. (That's the only disciplinary paper trail the Voice is aware of in this case.)
Lorenzana could prevail on either or both of these issues: a hostile work environment or retaliation. Tuckner says that in his experience with gender-discrimination cases, juries tend to be more sympathetic than arbitrators, if only because the typical arbitrator is a middle-aged man. There's always the possibility that he'll be too distracted by Lorenzana to focus on the evidence.Follow our continuing coverage of Debrahlee Lorenzana here.