Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Litigation Communications Strategy Gone Awry?

By now I suspect that you have become aware of the saga of Debrahlee Lorenzana, the JPMorgan Chase banker who has filed a discrimination claim against her former employer, Citigroup. The media blitz began with a June 1, 2010 Village Voice article and in less than a week included columns by opinion makers such as Maureen Dowd and appearances on the morning news shows. In her lawsuit, Ms. Lorenzana claims that she was unlawfully terminated from her position at Citigroup because her attractiveness and attire were considered too distracting to her fellow employees. The case is headed to arbitration soon, and anyone who believes that this burst of publicity concerning a claim filed in November 2009 is serendipitous has not been reading this blog. This media flurry has all the earmarks of an orchestrated campaign by her media savvy lawyers to court public opinion in order to "soften-up" Citigroup for the arbitration, and perhaps persuade it settle prior to arbitration. It is a frequently employed tactic.

There are, of course, dangers in pursuing this strategy when your client has appeared in "Plastic Surgery New York Style" on the Discovery Health Channel, which chronicled her multiple cosmetic procedures so that she could achieve her goal of being "t*** on a stick." The above picture is a screen grab from the show, at the point where Ms. Lorenzana is in a grocery store with two of her friends using various fruits and vegetables to show them what she wants to achieve with her next cosmetic procedure. The complete segment can be seen here.

This is not a problem for Ms. Lorenzana's legal claim. Having had cosmetic surgery in no way negates Ms. Lorenzana's claim against Citigroup, and her attractiveness was not a justification for discrimination. It has, however, caused the media that Ms. Lorenzana's lawyers have been courting, and which seemed very sympathetic, to turn on her and begin to question many of the statements she made during her media tour, such as that her attractiveness is a product of her genes; that her attractiveness has been a lifelong problem; and that she would "definitely" want to be less attractive to avoid the problems her attractiveness has caused. It also may have the opposite effect the lawyers intended, by firming Citigroup's resolve to continue with the arbitration.

UPDATE (6/14/2010): American Banking & Market News is reporting that Ms. Lorenzana has retained new legal counsel, Robert Wolf.

UPDATE (6/15/2010): The New York Post is reporting that Ms. Lorenzana has retained California based attorney Gloria Allred and New York based attorney Mariann Meier Wang.


  1. Erm... You may want to notice that by censoring "t*** on a stick" you make the phrase ambiguous (and the alternative reading is waaay worse).

    I think the standard convention for censoring words is to not censor suffixes, so you'd write f***ed instead of f*****. Or, in this case, "t**s on a stick."

    Also, great analysis of what's going on here. Keep up the good work.

  2. I am beginning to think Ms. Lorenzana is not so much interested in obtaining damages from Citigroup. We may be missing Ms. Lorenzana's true agenda which is to achieve publicity and notoriety in order to launch some entertainment-related career. To mix metaphors, she may not "appear" to be the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but she may be dumb like a fox. As long as their names are spelled and pronounced correctly, her serial attorneys will also benefit from her spill-over notoriety. I wonder how many days will pass before we hear about her new reality show or Playboy centerfold spread. Or maybe a Debrahlee fashion line of clothing? We live in a wonderful country don't we? The opportunities are unlimited. If she gets damages from Citigroup, an entertainment career, and an accomplished husband (an expressed goal of hers), then she will have won a trifecta. I am enjoying your blog as it is both useful and interesting.