The Reason This Teenage Girl Got Fired Reveals a Reality About Being a Woman in the Workplace

June 23rd 2016

Lucy Tiven

Asking your boss about money might be daunting, but it shouldn't get you fired. Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened when 17-year-old Jensen Walcott asked her manager why she was offered a lower wage than a male co-worker, the Cut reported.

Mere hours after Walcott and her friend Jake Reed were hired at a Kansas city pizza place, Walcott found out that Reed was offered an $8.25 hourly wage, while she would be paid $8 to do the same job.

Since gender-based pay discrimination is illegal — Walcott and Reed were hired the same day, are the same age, and had similar employment backgrounds — the teen gave her manager a call and asked why she was offered a smaller slice of the pie. In response, the manager fired both of them and said that it was because "discussing wages is against policy."

The teenagers told local news outlet FOX 4 that neither of them were told about the policy before the call.

The incident appears to be a clear violation of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. But that isn't the only law the pizza parlor manager seems to have broken.

The 1935 National Labor Relations Act forbids employers in the private sector from punishing employees for "concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection."

As such, pay secrecy — "a workplace policy that prohibits employees from discussing how much money they make," has largely been interpreted to be illegal by the National Labor Relations Board, NPR explains.

In 2014, President Obama signed an executive order that explicitly outlawed pay secrecy for federal employers.

"Pay secrecy fosters discrimination and we should not tolerate it," President Obama said. "Not in federal contracting or anywhere else."

But workplace prohibitions against discussing pay still exist, and they disproportionately hurt women.

In 2010, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research conducted a survey about pay secrecy. The survey reported:

"The survey of 2,700 adults found that 19 percent of employees say they work in a setting where discussions of wages and salaries are 'formally prohibited, and/or employees caught discussing wage and salary information could be punished.' Another 31 percent of workers reported that discussion of wage and salary information “is discouraged by managers.”

Full-time female employees earned 79 cents for each dollar earned by their male counterparts in 2014, according to a brief published in February 2016 by the Women's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor.

"Women’s median earnings are lower than men’s in nearly all occupations, whether they work in occupations predominantly held by women, occupations predominantly held by men, or occupations with a more even composition of men and women," the brief continues. "Pay secrecy policies serve to perpetuate these disparities."

[h/t the Cut]