Kansas teen gains national attention over equal pay

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PAY EQUALITY ADVOCATE: Jensen Walcott shares her story on being fired from a pizza place after asking for the same salary as her male co-worker Jake Reed. – Kansas City Star screenshot
PAY EQUALITY ADVOCATE: Jensen Walcott shares her story on being fired from a pizza place after asking for the same salary as her male co-worker Jake Reed. – Kansas City Star screenshot

Jensen Walcott was fired after asking for the same salary as her male co-worker

By SHERI GASSAWAY

Correspondent

The equal pay for equal work battle continues, and it doesn’t matter what your age, experience or title. Case in point: 17-year-old Jensen Walcott.

Walcott, of Bonner Springs, KS, recently was hired for a summer job at Pizza Studio making $8 an hour. She then learned that her friend Jake Reed, 17, also would soon be working for the shop, making $8.25 an hour doing the same job. The teens had the same amount of work experience.

“One of Jake’s friends said maybe I was getting paid less because I’m female, and I thought well that’s definitely not right,” Walcott said in an interview with the Kansas City Star.

So, Walcott called her new manager to ask about the pay discrepancy and was fired immediately because “discussing wages is against company policy.” Reed was fired for the same reason. The teens both say they were never informed they couldn’t discuss wages.

Since then, the manager has been let go, and Pizza Studio has issued an apology. However, company representatives say gender did not play a role in the salaries offered, rather “it was a failure to assign the correct salary and a misunderstanding of our company policies by one of our employees.”

OneDayDentures.7-7-16“A lot of people are saying 25 cents an hour isn’t a big deal,” Walcott told the newspaper.

“And that kind of thinking is why this is a problem,” Reed added during the interview.

NATIONAL ATTENTION

It’s a problem indeed. So much so that Walcott’s plight has captured national attention. Even Hillary Clinton took note, giving the teen a shout out on Twitter: “Good for you, Jensen. Every woman deserves equal pay, no matter what her age. Keep up the hard work – and courage!”

Meanwhile, New York Magazine called Walcott “a hero, a pay-discrimination advocate before even heading off to college,” and Seventeen sounded off on the situation as well: “You might be wondering, why is a quarter such a big deal? Well, it's not just Jensen. According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, there was a 21-percent wage gap between full-time male and female workers in 2014.

“And those numbers are even worse for women of color,” the national teen magazine noted. “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.”

PAY EQUALITY IN MISSOURI

SMP 2x5 AdLocally, news of Walcott’s situation underscored the need for legislation requiring equal pay for equal work. Chris Koster, Missouri attorney general and Democratic candidate for governor, shared Walcott’s story on his Facebook page.

“Cases like Jensen's highlight our need for businesses and policymakers to keep up the fight to end the wage gap so our nation's daughters will always get equal pay for equal work,” Koster wrote in his post.

In Missouri, a woman earns 71 cents for every dollar a man earns for the same work. Legislators like Missouri Representative Stephen Webber (D-Columbia) call that unacceptable.

“It’s high time that our polices are changed to ensure equal pay for equal work,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Earlier this year, Webber filed a bill to prohibit employers from discriminating in providing compensation based on gender for the same work performed under similar work conditions. A similar bill was filed in the Senate.

Neither bill passed, but they will most likely be reintroduced during the next legislative session.

(Some information in this story from the Kansas City Star.)

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