Yelp fires employee after she publicly complains about pay. Is this fair?

Two hours after young Yelp employee Talia Jane publicly aired her grievances to CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, she was fired. Jane's letter has gone viral, leading many to question Yelp's judgment. 

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    Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman poses at his company's headquarters in San Francisco in August 2014.
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Yelp employee Talia Jane was fired Friday after publishing an open letter to Yelp’s CEO, Jeremy Stoppelman.

In an open letter to Mr. Stoppelman published on Medium, Ms. Jane (who has withheld her real name for privacy reasons) berates her employer, Eat24/Yelp. As a customer service representative, Jane says she makes $733.24 bi-weekly, which breaks down to $8.15 an hour after taxes. And in the notoriously pricey San Francisco Bay area, Jane says she found the cheapest apartment possible at $1,245 a month, 30 miles from work. 

Jane says she has no money left to buy food or to fix her car’s flat tire. 

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“Your employee for your food delivery app that you spent $300 million to buy can’t afford to buy food,” she writes. “That’s gotta be a little ironic, right?” 

Talia says she has not bought groceries since starting her job at Eat24/Yelp. Instead, she lives on free office snacks during the day and a bag of rice at home. 

“You could probably cut back on a lot of the drinks and snacks that are stocked on every single floor,” writes Talia. “I mean, I could handle losing out on pistachio nuts if I was getting paid enough to afford groceries.”

Talia updated her letter two hours after it was published, saying she was officially let go from the company. The 25-year-old then gave her PayPal, Square, and Venmo usernames, for any readers who wished to send her money. 

Yelp, for its part, denies any connection between Jane's letter and her firing.

“I’ve not been personally involved in Talia being let go and it was not because she posted a Medium letter directed at me,” Stoppelman wrote on Twitter Friday night. “Two sides to every HR story so Twitter army please put down the pitchforks.” 

But Talia counters Stoppelman’s claims on Twitter, saying her firing came from the CEO himself. 

The reviews on Talia’s 2,392-word letter have been mixed.

Her plight definitely struck a nerve in the San Francisco community, with many entry-level tech employees identifying with her struggle to make ends meet in a particularly expensive area. Within 24 hours, her letter had been viewed by over 85,000 people. 

“Yelp is trying to make this die down by lying about it,” Jane tells BuzzFeed. “Firing someone while their post about pay issues is on the cusp of going viral, that’s like a lighting strike in the middle of a super dry forest. Things have just exploded.” 

But some say Jane has a “head in the sand” level of expectations. Because her dream is to work in Yelp’s media department, Jane is frustrated about her year-long placement in customer service. 

Imagine that,” writes Forbes contributor Dan Pontefract. “Having to demonstrate commitment and competence before moving to a different role in the organization.” Pontefract goes on to defend Yelp’s immediate termination of Jane after her “self-induced kamikaze-like mission to get fired.”

“No sane CEO or competent company would do otherwise,” argues Mr. Pontefract. “But I also see Ms. Jane’s open letter as an opportunity for Yelp to turn the misguided intentions of an employee into a new and redefined organizational purpose.” 

With Yelp’s Bay Area headquarters, the company could become an advocate for affordable housing and living wages in San Francisco county. 

But Stoppelman hasn’t yet issued a plan of action to help his lowest paid employees survive in pricey San Francisco. Instead, he reminded his Twitter followers Saturday that Yelp plans to open another customer service base in Arizona, where Jane’s colleagues can likely find cheaper living with the same salary.

[Editor's note: An earlier version misstated the frequency of Ms. Jane's paycheck.]

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