Bonner Springs teens Jensen Walcott and Jake Reed never thought getting fired would lead to so much praise.
“Me and Jake thought that was going to be all, a small little news story in our local metro area, and it took off,” said 17-year-old Jensen Walcott.
After the news broke that Walcott was let go after asking her Pizza Studio manager why Reed was making 25 cents more than her when they had the same qualifications and were hired on the same day, the story spread quickly.
Multiple national news outlets picked it up and thousands shared the stories on social media.
Executive Director of Operations at Pizza Studio Ashleigh Siefker issued a statement saying:
“Pizza Studio has fully investigated the incident and we want to be clear that gender did not play a role in determination of either salary, nor for any Pizza Studio employee. […] 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; it should be noted the manager in communication with Miss Walcott is also a female. Pizza Studio did not agree however with how the manager handled the situation. 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.”
Walcott caught the attention of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton through a Seventeen magazine article.
Clinton tweeted Walcott with praise and a link to the article, saying “Keep up the hard work and courage.”
Good for you, Jensen. Every woman deserves equal pay, no matter what her age. Keep up the hard work—and courage! https://t.co/F83gK5oZ6W -H
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) June 24, 2016
“We thought Hillary tweeting me was going to be the end too," said Walcott. "The high point. We’re like that’s pretty cool. Then we thought maybe Ellen would reach out to us or something like that."
Clinton’s campaign reached out instead, inviting both Reed and Walcott to speak on the last night of the Democratic National Convention.
The DNC provided a speechwriter to help the two with their speech.
We’re used to performing in front of crowds, but not that big,” said Walcott.
In Walcott and Reed’s speech Walcott said “I may have lost my job, but I’m proud that I spoke up for myself, and I’m glad that Jake stood with me. And we’re both glad that Hillary Clinton stood with us.”
Reed followed, saying “Our story isn’t just about fighting for equal pay. It’s about doing the right thing and having each other’s back. Because if we don’t do that, nothing will change.”
Walcott and Reed didn’t meet Clinton, though they did cross paths with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and the man caught up in the most recent criticism by Republican nominee Donald Trump: Khizr Khan, the father of a slain Muslim U.S. soldier.
Walcott’s biggest takeaway was the response from others at the convention and around the world.
“Don’t be afraid to question authority if they’re doing something wrong,” said Walcott.
“No matter your age you can make a difference because we just stood up for ourselves doing the right thing and we just got to speak to millions of people and we were just two local Kansas teenagers,” said Reed.
Brian Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.