A single quarter might not seem like a lot of money for most, but for 17-year-old Jensen Walcott, the pocket change was indicative of a massive gender gap that still pervades much of the food industry and beyond. You see, it was a dispute over 25 cents that ultimately led to Walcott being fired from a Kansas pizzeria less than an hour after she was hired.
Walcott was hired at Pizza Studio in Kansas City, Kansas along with a male friend named Jake Reed. But when the 17-year-olds compared salaries, they realized something was amiss with their summer jobs. Despite being hired for the same position and having nearly identical work experience, Walcott would be making $8 an hour at her newfound job, while her male friend would be making $8.25 an hour.
Assuming the pay discrepancy to be nothing more than an accounting error, Walcott rang up her new manager and asked about the varying salaries. Walcott's manager, also a woman, then put the teen 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," explained Walcott to local news. Soon thereafter, the manager got back on the line and told Walcott that she was fired for violating the company's policy, which allegedly prohibits employees from discussing their wages with one another. Reed was also fired.
That's when Walcott stuck up for herself and railed against what she perceived to be blatant gender discrimination. Her story went viral—and even Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton got word of it, tweeting her approval at how Walcott handled the situation.
Thanks to the publicity, the punitive Pizza Studio manager has been let go and Pizza Studio itself has apologized. Kind of.
The pizza business says that it regrets how the episode was handled. However, a representative told the New York Daily News that following a full investigation of the incident, gender was not found to be a factor in the salary differential. "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," said Ashleigh Siefker, executive director of operations for Pizza Studio.
In any event, Walcott was pretty thrilled to receive the shout out from Hillary: "I like freaked out, kind of cried a little bit. I was really excited," she said. "Especially since she signed it H. That really, she said my name. I was like, 'Aw, thank you, Hillary.'"
Walcott is also psyched that by standing up for herself, she started a national conversation: "Now more people are understanding that you can discuss wages and if somebody tells you that you can't, they're wrong," Walcott said.
And, in case you were wondering, it is entirely appropriate for employees to compare wages; in fact, businesses that prohibit workers for doing so are on the wrong side of the law. "The clear message for employers: Say no to prohibiting workers from discussing pay and compensation," says the National Labor Relations Board.
All it took was a question from a teenager. Nice work, Jensen Walcott.