Susan Antilla: 'Too hot' banker a letdown for feminists

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Debrahlee Lorenzana seems oblivious to the plight of other women in finance, writes Susan Antilla

Debrahlee Lorenzana's case was brought to light by the Village Voice. Photo / Supplied
Debrahlee Lorenzana's case was brought to light by the Village Voice. Photo / Supplied

The shame of the Debrahlee "They Fired Me Because I Was Too Hot" Lorenzana story is that it is the rare Wall St 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 St-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 who says she was fired in August because of 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 co-workers 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 with the headline "Is This Woman Too Hot to Be a Banker?"

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.

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 St. 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 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 St 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 judgment of sexists?

Women sue Wall St 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, 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 centre on everything from her bra size - 32 DD, if you had to know - and discussions of whether she wore pants that were too tight. 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 per cent 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 modelling career, why don't you use it?

A condition of her getting that job at Citi was that she agree to forgo 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 told her last week that word had come down from none other than chief executive Jamie Dimon that she'd better knock it off with all the media stuff.

* Susan Antilla, author of the 2002 book, Tales from the Boom-Boom Room, is a Bloomberg News columnist

- NZ Herald

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