Friday, June 4, 2010

Seinfeld as Real Life: Too Hot for Work

Banker For Seinfeld fans out there, you might recall the episode where George was interviewing secretaries for his job with the Yankees.  To one candidate, he said that she was simply too good-looking and that he could not hire her because he would not be able to concentrate on his work. He hired a rather normal looking female secretary instead.

Fact now mimics fiction. From the Village Voice:

Everything about Debrahlee Lorenzana [picture at left] is hot. Even her name sizzles. At five-foot-six and 125 pounds, with soft eyes and flawless bronze skin, she is J.Lo curves meets Jessica Simpson rack meets Audrey Hepburn elegance—a head-turning beauty.

In many ways, the story of her life has been about getting attention from men—both the wanted and the unwanted kind. But when she got fired last summer from her job as a banker at a Citibank  branch in Midtown—her bosses cited her work performance—she got even hotter. She sued Citigroup, claiming that she was fired solely because her bosses thought she was too hot.

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.

All kidding aside, this raises a Jesperson-like appearance discrimination issue under Title VII.  It appears that she does have a claim since she is not conforming to the stereotype of what a "normal" woman should look like, no?

Hat Tip: Randy Enochs


Employment Discrimination, Workplace Trends | Permalink

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The Village Voice ran an article about a secretary who was too hot. She claims that she was terminated because her boss could not concentrate on work. Workplace Prof Blog picked up this story and concluded that she was have... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 6, 2010 9:00:07 PM


This does seem to be a sex-stereotyping case, but I think it's significantly different from Jespersen. First, she doesn't seem to be challenging the appearance code itself--just that it was applied differently to her than to other women. This seems more like a reverse-Hopkins case--one involving descriptive stereotyping rather than prescriptive stereotyping, maybe. It also has overtones of VMI and Dothard v. Rawlinson if the employer was essentially penalizing her for being too feminine, or at least too sexily feminine. Overall, if she can successfully frame this as the guys penalizing her for their reactions to her femininity, then this looks like straight up sex discrimination.

Posted by: Marcia | Jun 4, 2010 12:12:50 PM

I think "reverse-Hopkins" gets it exactly right: her real claim is that she was forced to cover her feminine appearance. (I'm using "cover" in Kenji Yoshino's sense.)

There may also be an intersectional claim just below the surface. Her particular feminine mode of dressing sounds like it has an ethnic dimension -- or at least she so asserts in some of her media appearances.

One question I have about the case is why the plaintiff seems to be pursuing such an aggressive media strategy. This case has received an unbelievable amount of attention. Is the idea to publicly shame her former employer for its wrongful conduct, or simply to become famous?

Posted by: Joey | Jun 6, 2010 11:43:10 PM

I agree with Marcia, but if they can show that she was simply too hot and that is the only reason she got fired (not because she was too feminine or the way she dressed) then it seems like there is no sex discrimination, right? I thought employers were free to fire employees for whatever reason they want provided there isn't a contract or a violation of state or federal employment laws. An employee who is "too hot" doesn't seem to be protected. I guess if they really made her dress differently then I see the reverse Hopkins argument.

Posted by: PluckWonderChicken | Jun 7, 2010 5:53:47 AM

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