I saw the news the first time it appeared: a Citibank female employee filing a suit against her former company because she was fired due to her attractiveness.

I was amused...

I have heard of similar stories here in our local scene, and the most that was done was tell off the female subordinate to dress up - and appropriately. Very much unlike Ms Lorenzana's case of getting fired.

Anyway, I saw this news article, about two weeks ago today, and I am quite interested on how it was related here by the author.

What could be our supposed 'ace' turns out to be a bad card after all. Or is it?

Read on...

Dressed to distract

by Maureen Dowd
It's hard to feel sorry for a woman who frets about being too beautiful.

Ordinarily in life, extraordinary good looks are an advantage for men and women - and even babies. Not only do babies gaze longer at more comely adult faces, research tells us, but parents may gaze longer at more comely babies.

So it was unusual when a knockout in New York, Ms Debrahlee Lorenzana, a 33-year-old single mother, filed a suit against Citigroup, claiming that she was fired in August from the Citibank branch at the Chrysler Centre for looking too sexy.

"Plaintiff was advised that as a result of the shape of her figure," her lawsuit reads, "such clothes were purportedly 'too distracting' for her male colleagues and supervisors to bear".

The media have had a field day. Last week's Village Voice cover profile of Ms Lorenzana - who grew up in Puerto Rico and moved to New York when she was 21 - raved about the bank officer's charms: "At five-foot-six and 125 pounds, (167cm and 57kg) with soft eyes and flawless bronze skin, she is J Lo curves meets Jessica Simpson rack meets Audrey Hepburn elegance."

Television and tabloids ran pictures, taken by a photographer who works with her lawyer, showing Ms Lorenzana in the pencil skirts, turtlenecks, tailored jackets and stilettos that she says made her bosses at the bank concentrate on the wrong kind of figures.

"She has to manage her wardrobe so these men can manage their libidos?" said her lawyer Jack Tuckner, adding that her bosses acted as immaturely as the boys on Wayne's World.

As she prepared to appear on the Monday morning shows, Ms Lorenzana recalled that her supervisors obsessed over what she was wearing "saying things are too tight, you cannot wear turtlenecks. Well, guess what? When you say my pants are too tight when they're not, then you must have been staring at me.

"The reality is, I'm a size 32 DD. I'm very skinny, and then I have curves. So, of course, on my body, the turtleneck is going to make it more noticeable. But I'm not showing cleavage. We wear jackets."

She said a co-worker who shopped with her and bought the same styles and designer brands never got in trouble, and neither did some tellers who wore low-cut tops, snug pants and hot boots.

"I said: 'You are discriminating against me because of my body type'," she said with a slight accent and a breathy voice. "This is genetic. What am I supposed to do?"

Citigroup didn't return calls for comment on Friday. Ms Lorenzana's lawsuit says that her bosses told her that her female colleagues could wear what they liked because their "general unattractiveness rendered moot their sartorial choices".

Her well-tailored clothes, on the other hand, emphasised what her lawyer calls her "hour-glass figure".

An opposite reaction

This case has caused such fascination because usually it's the other way around.

Attractive professors get better evaluations from their students, according to one study. A 2005 analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis confirmed what seems apparent, from presidential races to executive boardrooms: Good-looking people and tall people get a "beauty premium" - an extra 5 per cent an hour - while there is a "plainness penalty" of 9 per cent in wages.

A study that looked at men's height as teenagers and their salaries later found they made US$789 ($1,115) more a year for every extra inch of height. Meanwhile, obese women tend to get substantially lower wages than women of average weight.

Although people laugh at the idea of a babe in the office being as maddening as Tantalus' out-of-reach fruit, women do get penalised this way sometimes.

A male friend once told me he was looking for an unattractive personal assistant so he wouldn't be tempted. And when I was hiring a Grace Kelly blonde as a researcher a few years ago, a male colleague asked me not to because it would be "too distracting" to him; two girlfriends cautioned me not to because it would be depressing - and therefore, distracting - for me to work with someone so good looking. (It wasn't.)

"Sometimes, honestly, I wish I didn't look the way I did," Ms Lorenzana says, "because people judge you right away. Other women have their guards up, they automatically categorise you as being conceited. I have to work three times as hard to prove that I earned this through my hard work.

"My life has been hard my entire life. People have this misconception that, 'Oh, you do well in your life because of your looks.' No, I am harassed." The New York Times

The writer is a New York Times columnist who won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary in 1999.

From TODAY, Commentary - Monday, 07-June-2010
Dressed to distract

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