`Too Hot' Banker No Match for Sex-Suit Pioneers: Susan Antilla

The shame of the Debrahlee “They Fired Me Because I Was Too Hot” Lorenzana story is that it is the rare Wall Street gender discrimination case that gets the public’s attention. Yet Lorenzana is making negligible efforts to exploit it on anyone’s behalf except her own.

That may make Lorenzana just perfect by the standards of self-interested Wall Street-style capitalism. And, to be sure, she has no obligation to be an anti-sex discrimination activist. By the standards of women who fought for fairness in the financial industry before her, though, she is a big-time letdown.

In case aliens sequestered you in a spaceship for the past week, Lorenzana is the 33-year-old former business banking officer at Citigroup Inc. who says she was fired in August due to gender discrimination. She says Citigroup’s bosses told her to alter her attire because her body and her beauty were too much for her cretin male coworkers to take. They couldn’t focus on their work if she was in the vicinity.

News of her fight with Citigroup, which says her claim is without merit, came by way of a front-page story on June 1 in the Village Voice newspaper. “Is This Woman Too Hot to Be a Banker?” the headline queried. Twenty-six photos accompanied the story. In several of them, we were treated to Lorenzana striking sexy poses in cocktail dresses -- shots that would be just the ticket for an escort-service ad. The photos instantly pushed my “what was she thinking?” button.

Photographer: Carrie Schecter/Village Voice via Bloomberg

The cover of the Village Voice, feauturing a photo of Debrahlee Lorenzana. Close

The cover of the Village Voice, feauturing a photo of Debrahlee Lorenzana.

Close
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Photographer: Carrie Schecter/Village Voice via Bloomberg

The cover of the Village Voice, feauturing a photo of Debrahlee Lorenzana.

Risky Lawsuit

Women who sue financial firms are taking on a high-risk project no matter what the circumstances. Many never work again, certainly not on Wall Street. Some have mental breakdowns from the stress. I’ll never forget one plaintiff who suffered a stroke and later showed up in court to object to the handling of the settlement of the “Boom-Boom Room” suit against Smith Barney in the 1990s, a high profile class-action lawsuit that sent the brokerage firm scurrying to protect its image.

These were among gutsy pioneers who tried, albeit with limited success, to make the Wall Street workplace better for people like Lorenzana.

Given the ridiculous odds against women who speak up against financial giants, why would anyone give the defendant, or a court, or an arbitrator, a reason to question whether they were saddled with really bad judgment? Lorenzana can wear whatever she wants and pose for photos for Hustler for all I care, but what’s with the heaving cleavage and cheerleader- length skirts when you’re trying to make a case that you got fired because of the poor judgments of sexists?

Photo Op

Women sue Wall Street all the time only to elicit yawns from the media. The Lorenzana complaint, though, after languishing in the bowels of a New York courthouse for six months, got legs -- and breasts and buttocks -- only after the Voice published those pictures.

Lorenzana has not been wholly oblivious to the plight of other women in finance. At the end of an extensive interview about her clothing and body shape Monday morning, Maggie Rodriguez of the CBS “Early Show” asked Lorenzana what her goal was. It was that women would “not be afraid” to speak out, Lorenzana said.

That sort of talk, though, is eclipsed by the more dominant coverage that seems to center on everything from her bra size -- 32 DD, if you had to know -- and discussions of whether she wore pants that were too tight.

Serious Issues Remain

If only she seemed interested, there are plenty of topics she could take on. Why not a discussion about the dismal statistics on women in finance, who in a good year might enjoy 30 percent of the promotions to managing director while men get the rest? Or a chat about whatever happened to the biannual “diversity studies” of progress in hiring women and minorities that the securities industry’s trade group launched amid the bad press of discrimination lawsuits of the late 1990s, but mysteriously dropped after the depressing results of its 2007 report?

You have a bully pulpit, Ms. Lorenzana. Unless this is all about launching a modeling career, why don’t you use it?

Whether she’s seeking an education on it or not, the woman who was too hot for Citi will be learning lots about Wall Street’s private justice system. Lorenzana by now must be very accustomed to having reporters on hand to hear what she has to say. But when it’s show time for her hearing, she will be ushered into a private room with a single, privately paid judge. No reporters, no public transcripts, nada. A condition of her getting that job at Citi was that she agree to forego the court system if she had a gripe.

And, who knows, maybe she’ll even get to do the arbitration thing twice. Lorenzana told The New York Post that the boss at her new job at JPMorgan Chase & Co. told her last week that word had come down from none other than Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon that she’d better knock it off with all the media stuff. Amazingly, Tom Kelley, a JPMorgan Chase spokesman, refused to tell me whether the bank required employees to give up their rights to the courts as a condition of employment.

If Lorenzana does wind up in a legal fight with Chase, she will finally have something in common with those Boom-Boom Room women: she’ll be taking on a company run by former Smith Barney boss Dimon.

(Susan Antilla, author of the 2002 book, “Tales from the Boom-Boom Room,” is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Susan Antilla in New York at santilla@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this column: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net

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