National

Teen fired after asking for the same pay as her male co-worker at a pizza shop

Jensen Walcott
Jensen Walcott From the family

It’s not every day that a teenager gets a shout-out on Twitter from Hillary Clinton.

A lot of national attention has found 17-year-old Jensen Walcott of Bonner Springs, Kansas, since she was let go from her pizza place job an hour after she was hired.

A manager of Pizza Studio at the Legends fired her after Walcott compared her salary to that of her guy friend and discovered that she was making $8 an hour — 25 cents less an hour than him for doing the same job with the same amount of work experience.

When Walcott called the shop back to ask about the discrepancy, she got canned because, the manager told her, discussing wages is against company policy.

The manager has since been let go, and Pizza Studio has apologized.

But a fire has been lit. And Clinton, for one, took note.

New York magazine called Walcott, a senior at Basehor-Linwood High School, “a hero, a pay-discrimination advocate before even heading off to college.”

The New York Daily News proclaimed that Walcott “just wasn’t getting enough dough.”

Walcott thought she was going to get more money when she phoned her new boss to talk about the salary disparity and the manager put her on hold.

“I was like, ‘Maybe when I’m on hold right now, she will just offer me $8.25 and everything is gonna be good,’ but ... she didn’t do that,” she told Fox 4 News.

Instead, the manager came back on the line and fired her, citing the company’s policy about pay discussions, according to Walcott.

Then Walcott’s friend Jake Reed who is also 17, was fired, too. They both said they were never told they couldn’t discuss their salaries.

Walcott still wants to know why she didn’t get the same salary as her friend.

“They should definitely be ashamed of themselves,” Reed said.

A rep for Pizza Studio later told the New York Daily News the incident had been “fully investigated” and that gender did not play a role in the salaries offered.

“After an in-depth review, we are confident this instance was not one of gender-bias but rather a failure to assign the correct salary and a misunderstanding of our company policies by one of our employees,” Ashleigh Siefker, executive director of operations, told the Daily News.

But Walcott’s story has touched off heated discussion about persistent pay inequality in the American workplace.

This isn’t just about Walcott, Seventeeen told its teen audience, pointing out the 21 percent wage gap between full-time male and female workers in 2014, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

“And those numbers are even worse for women of color,” Seventeen argued. “Equal pay is a huge issue that affects millions of Americans. You work hard for your money — just as hard (or even harder!) than your male counterparts do. You deserve to be rewarded just the same.”

Babble wrote that it is “ludicrous” that in the year 2016 men and women still aren’t paid the same for doing the same work.

“Women make up nearly half of the U.S. labor force and are, in today’s society, more and more becoming the breadwinners for their families,” wrote Babble. “When women are not paid equitably, everyone — including the men in their family — suffers. This is not a gender problem, this is everyone’s problem.”

Pizza Studio issued a lengthy statement to media outlets saying it did not agree with how its female manager handled Walcott’s situation. “And we want to be clear that gender did not play a role in determination of either salary,” the company said.

“We pride ourselves with treating our employees and guests with respect and open communication at all times. We have extended a formal apology to both Miss Walcott and Mr. Reed and have parted ways with the responsible manager in the best interest of all parties involved. We plan to use this experience to better improve our hiring procedures and policies moving forward.”

Should Walcott decide to sue Pizza Studio for what it did, she could have the law on her side. The National Labor Relations Board says it is entirely appropriate for employees to discuss their wages.

Some states have even passed laws protecting employees who do so. For instance, Colorado’s 2008 Wage Transparency Act prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for sharing wage information.

“The clear message for employers: Say no to prohibiting workers from discussing pay and compensation,” says the NLRB.

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