Coverage of 'Too Sexy for Citigroup' Banker Case Misses the Point


I've avoided commenting on the legal case of Debrahlee Lorenzana, the "Banker Too Sexy for Citigroup" (C) because it's an annoying story. The underlying factual questions are straightforward, and none of the evidence needed to answer them is in the public record. All that's in play are the assertions of both sides, and frankly, I don't find either side particularly sympathetic.

But since the coverage has focused mostly on whether or not Lorenzana really was "too sexy," as opposed to the facts at issue in the case, I can't help but comment now.

If Citigroup created a hostile workplace, discriminated against her and ultimately fired her without cause, then Lorenzana is right to make a claim and I hope she wins. (I'd say "sue" Citi, but she signed away her right to do that when she was hired. Instead, her claim will be heard in arbitration.)

As Stanford law professor Richard Thompson Ford explained in Slate, Lorenzana makes conventional sex discrimination claims that are more compelling than any issue about her being perceived by her bosses as too sexy: She claims clients she cultivated were taken away and handed off to men, that she was denied training, and that her supervisors fabricated incidents of tardiness in order to give themselves an excuse to put her on probation. By framing the issue as the more-provocative "fired for being too sexy," Lorenzana gets more headlines, but the direct discrimination she alleges gets lost in the tabloid glare.

Still, if the alleged conventional discrimination occurred, perhaps Lorenzana's right, and it happened not simply because she was a woman, but because she's an unusually sexy one. In any case, she claims that she performed her job satisfactorily and obeyed both the company's dress code and its code of conduct.

Hot or Not, Discrimination Is Discrimination

If as Citigroup contends, Lorenzana was fired for cause, whether because her job performance was poor, she violated the dress code, or she violated the code of conduct, then how sexy she is is utterly irrelevant. If it was a for-cause firing, Citigroup doesn't owe her a dime.

Which version of events is true? Who knows. But what's irrelevant is whether her gorgeous body results, as she's claimed, from her "genes", or is the product of plastic surgery. Nor does it matter whether she hoped to attract "a professional, well educated man" with her body, or wanted to pose for Playboy. If she did her job well and played by all the rules, it doesn't matter if making Barbie™ look dowdy was her life's goal, nor is it relevant if it took a thousand surgeries to do it. She can't be discriminated against in the workplace.

And what does it say about her coworkers if her version is true -- she played by all the rules but the people in her office just couldn't handle looking at her? How weak-willed and unprofessional are they? I mean, history is littered with men brought down by their inability to keep their pants zipped, so we all know some men have self-control problems when it comes to sex. But really: Lorenzana, fully clothed in dress-code appropriate attire, rendered them unable to function at work? Really?

Likewise, what does it say about Lorenzana if Citigroup's version is true -- that she was fired for cause? (On the road to her termination, she was put on probation for low sales.) Is she just a publicity-seeking, egocentric woman trying to leverage the spotlight for whatever it's worth? If so, her media campaign may have backfired a bit: She claims it's jeopardizing her current job. She isn't using all the attention to shine a needed light on sex discrimination on Wall Street more generally, though there's no requirement she do so.

Since her case is going to arbitration, the proceedings will be secret. However, if things go Lorenzana's way, I've got a feeling she'll find a way to let us all know about it.