|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
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.
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?"