Legal Trickery – Eric A. Parzianello

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Reverse Weight Discrimination? Attractive Banker Says She Was Fired For Being “Too Distracting”

Posted by Eric Parzianello on June 10, 2010

A Citibank employee in New York alleges that she was fired because her male co-workers found her to be “too distracting” in a standard business suit and classic high heels. The ABA Journal reports that Debrahlee Lorenzana said that she was “being treated in a sexist and discriminatory manner.” Lorenzana said that other women at the bank dressed more provocatively than she did, but were allowed to wear what they liked because of their “general unattractiveness.” Whether her appearance could have caused such distractions will be left to the authors on the websites and blogs which have posted her pictures. Nevertheless, the case raises various interesting workplace issues including the appropriate attire for professionals in corporate America, maintenance of a dress code and discrimination (in this case, reverse discrimination) based on appearance.

Under Michigan law, an employer may generally maintain a non-discriminatory dress code but may not discriminate against an employee based on weight. If an employee proves that he or she was discharged from employment with weight being a determinative factor in the termination, then the employee has established a claim of weight discrimination. Michigan law does not limit weight discrimination to overweight individuals; if Michigan law were applied to Lorenzana’s claims, she could have a potential weight discrimination claim if she could prove she had been fired for being too thin.

Lorenzana’s allegations are in direct contrast to a recent case brought by a Michigan Hooters’ waitress who claims that she was wrongly required to lose weight in order to look more attractive. Neither Florida nor any other state has a weight discrimination law similar to Michigan, a point which Hooters laments is “one of the long list of things that make it harder for us to do business in Michigan than in our 45 other states.”

Because Lorenzana’s employment agreement contained an arbitration clause (something all employers should consider), her case will not go to a jury. Expect to read more about this, however, as Citibank plans a vigorous defense.

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