Fired banker’s suit, and suits, raise eye­brows in me­dia, Web

Austin American-Statesman - - LIFE&STYLE - By Jen­nifer Peltz

NEW YORK — It went vi­ral as the ul­ti­mate ex­am­ple of be­ing pun­ished for cir­cum­stances be­yond one’s con­trol: a woman who said she was fired from her bank­ing job be­cause she com­plained that her male col­leagues called her bo­da­cious fig­ure a work­place dis­trac­tion.

Then — af­ter the tabloid head­lines, the TV in­ter­views, the New York Times col­umn — came the dis­clo­sure that the buxom banker who said she couldn’t help the way she looked had, in fact, helped it a lot, through a se­ries of cos­metic surg­eries she had ex­tolled on re­al­ity TV.

When De­brahlee Loren­zana asked state hu­man-rights of­fi­cials to in­ves­ti­gate her claims

against Citibank — which the bank de­nies — her story had al­ready be­come a cru­cible teem­ing with touchy sub­jects: sex­ual ha­rass­ment, women’s work­place fashion, so­ci­ety’s ob­ses­sion with beauty, Amer­i­cans’ mixed feel­ings about pub­lic­ity-seek­ing. It’s a moral­ity play for the YouTube era.

But as com­men­ta­tors rang­ing from le­gal ana- lysts to co­me­di­ans de­bate whether she’s a novel form of dis­crim­i­na­tion vic­tim or a gold dig­ger try­ing to cash in on male at­ten­tion she courted, the 33-year-old sin­gle mom at the cen­ter of it all says she’s un­bowed and try­ing to teach cor­po­rate Amer­ica a les­son.

She fol­lowed the bank’s dress code and tried to do her job, she says, and so what if she strove to look — in her own words — like a Play­boy model?

“There’s noth­ing wrong with that,” Loren­zana said at a news con­fer­ence Mon­day. “One thing has noth­ing to do with the other.”

Then she went off to work at her new job at an­other bank, dressed in a yel­low sleeve­less top, a form-fit­ting ecru skirt and tan stiletto peep-toe pumps.

Loren­zana isn’t the first woman to take le­gal ac­tion over work­place dress re­quire­ments; fa­mous ex­am­ples in­clude a Ne­vada casino bar­tender who un­suc­cess­fully sued af­ter she was fired for re­fus­ing to wear makeup. But many such cases re­volve around claims that the woman was pushed to look more like a sex ob­ject — not less, as Loren­zana al­leges.

Her claim that she was dressed down by bosses who said she was too al­lur­ing to wear turtle­necks or pen­cil skirts seized the cul­tural moment be­cause “it just sounded so sort of ‘Mad Men’-es­que,” said Brenda We­ber, a gen­der and cul­tural stud­ies pro­fes­sor at In­di­ana Uni­ver­sity, re­fer­ring to the AMC tele­vi­sion se­ries that of­ten dwells on mas­cu­line priv­i­lege in a 1960s ad­ver­tis­ing firm.

It’s no sur­prise the frenzy only in­ten­si­fied af­ter the rev­e­la­tion of Loren­zana’s plas­tic surgery, We­ber said.

In a cul­ture that cher­ishes ideals of gen­uine­ness and mer­i­toc­racy, “there’s this sort of strip­ping of her au­then­tic­ity that then, in an Amer­i­can con­text, we re­ally sort of dis­like,” she said, but “it doesn’t mean that we’re not fas­ci­nated.”

Loren­zana be­gan work­ing at a Citibank branch in Septem­ber 2008, in a job so­lic­it­ing and open­ing up new ac­counts for busi­nesses, ac­cord­ing to her new com­plaint to the state Hu­man Rights Di­vi­sion and a law­suit she filed last fall.

Man­agers soon be­gan has­sling her about her work wear, say­ing she looked “too dis­tract­ing” for her male col­leagues to han­dle, her law­suit said. When she pointed out that some co-work­ers wore more re­veal­ing clothes than she, a man­ager told her that “your body is very dif­fer­ent from them” and that be­cause the oth­ers “are short or fat, it’s OK for them to dress like that,” her hu­man-rights com­plaint said.

She com­plained re­peat­edly to Citibank hu­man re­sources of­fi­cials and was trans­ferred to an­other branch. Af­ter what she calls a de­lib­er­ate cam­paign to keep her from meet­ing per­for­mance tar­gets — in­clud­ing by giv­ing her an out-of-the-way desk where cus­tomers couldn’t find her — she was fired in Au­gust, ac­cord­ing to her com­plaints.

Citibank, part of bank­ing gi­ant Cit­i­group Inc., says poor per­for­mance was the sole rea­son for her fir­ing, and that the bank is con­fi­dent it will pre­vail in the le­gal fights.

“Her cur­rent at­tempts to gain per­sonal pub­lic­ity are as trans­par­ent as her le­gal claims,” Citibank spokes­woman Natalie Riper said in a state­ment Mon­day.

The law­suit, which seeks un­spec­i­fied dam­ages, is headed for ar­bi­tra­tion. The hu­man-rights com­plaint will trig­ger a sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tion that could ul­ti­mately lead to a rul­ing from an ad­min­is­tra­tive judge. The agency de­clined to com­ment Mon­day.

The al­ter­na­tive news­pa­per The Vil­lage Voice first wrote about Loren­zana’s law­suit June 1. Soon, fashion editors as­sessed her work wardrobe. Blog­gers de­cocted the ef­fects of beauty on the be­holder and the holder. News­pa­pers from Canada to Florida weighed in, some call­ing the case a flash­point for de­bate over work­place sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

Within days, Loren­zana made the rounds of net­work morn­ing shows. Times colum­nist Mau­reen Dowd ex­am­ined her case in light of stud­ies on so­ci­etal re­sponses to peo­ple’s at­trac­tive­ness. A pan­elist on NPR’s “Wait Wait ... Don’t Tell Me!” pro­nounced her predica­ment “the most flat­ter­ing way ever to get fired.”

Then the Daily News dis­closed that Loren­zana — who had told the paper, “I can’t help how I look” — had been fea­tured in a 2003 Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel se­ries called “Plas­tic Surgery New York Style” as she planned her fourth breast en­large­ment, to a size 32-DD.

“I know men have a fan­tasy of hav­ing a Play­boy Play­mate — that’s what I want to be,” she says on the show, not­ing that she also had had a tummy tuck and li­po­suc­tion.

Loren­zana said Mon­day she was sim­ply try­ing to re­store her curves af­ter breast-feed­ing, and that the show di­rected her com­ments. Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel rep­re­sen­ta­tives didn’t im­me­di­ately re­turn a call.

The twist in Loren­zana’s story only sparked more dis­sec­tion of whether she was stand­ing up for women’s rights or set­ting them back.

In one of the most cu­ri­ous de­bates, Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Women Pres­i­dent Terry O’Neill faced off against ac­tor and ra­dio per­son­al­ity Danny Bona­duce on CNN’s “The Joy Be­har Show,” while Be­har won­dered aloud about whether women’s en­dur­ing con­cern for their ap­pear­ance marked a fail­ure of fem­i­nism.

While Bona­duce lam­basted Loren­zana as an at­ten­tion-seeker, O’Neill says the banker shouldn’t have been sub­jected to the kind of at­ten­tion Loren­zana says she got.

“If a woman has breast implants, that re­ally doesn’t jus­tify in­ap­pro­pri­ate com­ments,” O’Neill said in an in­ter­view Mon­day.

As for Loren­zana, she said Mon­day that the saga has left her more me­dia-savvy but not sorry: “I don’t re­gret any­thing in life.”

Richard Drew AS­So­ci­Ated PreSS

De­brahlee Loren­zana, left, has said she couldn’t help it if her sexy body got her fired from Citibank. She’s work­ing with celebrity at­tor­ney Glo­ria Allred, right.

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