After completing a degree in English literature from Cal State Long Beach, Talia Jane headed north to the San Francisco Bay area to pursue a career in media. Jane’s job seemed promising at first. Even though her prior experience was primarily tutoring and freelancing as a writer, Jane landed an interview with Yelp/Eat24 and was hired on the same day that she interviewed. (Eat24 is a food delivery app purchased by Yelp.)
Although her goal was to work in a media job at Yelp and “be able to make memes and twitter jokes about food,” Jane took the entry-level job in customer service to get started. But the pay was low. So low, she wrote in a letter to Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, that she could only afford to eat free food at work and from a 10-pound bag of rice at home. Her salary, which she calculated to be $8.15 per hour after taxes, was not enough to make ends meet:
“Because 80 percent of my income goes to paying my rent. Isn’t that ironic? Your employee for your food delivery app that you spent $300 million to buy can’t afford to buy food.”
Within a few hours of posting her letter on Medium, Jane was fired. Stoppleman later tweeted that Jane’s firing was not related to the Medium post, but Jane said in a Buzzfeed News interview that her manager and HR representative had told her that her post violated the company’s code of conduct.
Meanwhile, Jane’s case caught lots of attention on social media. Thousands of people took her side by commenting on her Medium post, supporting her on Twitter, or donating to PayPal and Square Cash accounts that she posted at the end of her letter. One supporter set up a GoFundMe account, “Help A YELP/EAT24 Employee EAT/LIVE,” and raised $2,755 in 28 days from 80 donors.
Others were not as sympathetic. Internet users found Jane’s Instagram and Tumblr accounts and commented wryly on her ability to make (and post pictures of) prosciutto brie garlic biscuits and margarita-, mint-julep-, and pina-colada-flavored cupcakes. The pictures she posted of a bottle of Bulleit Bourbon that had been delivered to her didn’t help her case in the court of public opinion either.
In a blog on the website Ranker titled, “Pictures From Talia’s Instagram That Aren’t Rice,” Ranker user Ariel Kana re-posted 26 of Jane’s photos. “It was a simple dream, really: To work in media, live in her own apartment, and be able to afford to eat a variety of foods,” wrote Kana in the sarcastic post. But “armed only with a degree in English literature, a supportive father, and a coveted job in San Francisco at one of the Internet’s most visited websites, that dream could never become a reality.”
Jane defended her position, claiming that her posts on Instagram were designed to make it seem like she was thriving when the reality was otherwise, so people wouldn’t worry about her. In weighing the case, tech industry career consultant Gayle Laakmann McDowell wrote for Forbes.com that Jane’s post was “Maybe unwise for her future career, but somewhat admirable that she was willing to do it anyway.” Do you admire what Jane did? Do you think she should have been fired? What would you do differently, if you had been in her position?