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Can Being “Too Hot” Get You Fired?

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According to the New York City newspaper The Village Voice, Former Citibank employee Debrahlee Lorenzana has sued the New York City bank claiming that she was fired from her position as a banker for being “too hot.”
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As Lorenzana’s lawsuit states, her bosses told her that “as a result of the shape of her figure, such clothes were purported ‘too distracting’ for her male colleagues and supervisors to bear.”

According to one of Lorenzana’s friends, “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.” Lorenzana claims that other female employees wore more revealing clothes, but because they were not as physically attractive as she is, nobody criticized them.

Lorenzana says that the branch managers started making offhanded comments about her appearance. She was told not to wear fitted business suits. She should wear makeup because she looked sickly without it. (She had purposefully stopped wearing makeup in hopes of attracting less attention.) Once, she recalls, she came into work without having blow-dried her hair straight—it is naturally curly—and Fisher told a female colleague to pass on a message that she shouldn’t come into work without straightening it.

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.

Lorenzana claims that 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.” She says the managers told her to buy a looser-fitting wardrobe, but Lorenzana claims that she did not have enough money to replace all of her work clothes.

Lorenzana complained to Citibank’s human resources department, but she says that only made things worse. Management, she claims, retaliated against her for complaining.

Citibank says that the firing was based on poor performance, but Lorenzana claims that when the company fired her, they never mentioned her performance.

Lorenzana’s lawsuit is based on two claims: (1) that Citibank management created a sexually hostile environment by focusing on, and criticizing, her clothes; and (2) that the bank retaliated against her when she complained. Unfortunately for Lorenzana, her case will not be heard by a jury. As a condition of her employment, she signed an arbitration agreement so the case will go through binding arbitration rather than a jury trial.