“I can’t afford to buy groceries”: Yelp fired an employee after her scathing open letter to the CEO

Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp’s CEO.
Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp’s CEO.
Image: Reuters/Jim Young
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A curious sequence of events unfolded on Twitter yesterday (Feb. 19) afternoon. A Yelp employee published a scathing open letter to CEO Jeremy Stoppelman about her bleak living conditions despite working in the tech industry. Shortly after sharing her post on Twitter, she acknowledged that she could get fired. And, not two hours later, she was.

A Yelp representative confirmed that the company fired Talia Jane, the letter’s author and a customer service agent for Eat24, Yelp’s food-delivery subsidiary. But the rep declined to say why Jane was fired, noting that “we do not comment on personnel issues.”

Jane, however, tells Quartz in an email that the human resources department informed her the “letter violated Yelp’s Terms of Conduct and for that reason, they (Yelp/Eat24) had to ‘separate’ from me.” That seems to be at odds with a tweet from Stoppelman saying the firing and the letter were unrelated. (He didn’t elaborate on why she was fired.)

Despite firing her, Yelp (outwardly at least) appears to be strangely sympathetic to Jane. In an email to Quartz, the rep called her letter—which is dripping with sarcasm—a “real, personal narrative about what it’s like to live in the Bay Area” (also an “important example of freedom of speech”). Stoppelman took a similar line on Twitter:

For Jane, living in the Bay Area has meant, according to her, being in debt; making $8.15 an hour after taxes; subsisting for the past six months on nothing but a 10-pound bag of rice and the free food provided by her work (which, though it’s bountiful, “we’re not allowed to take home because it’s for at-work eating”); and spending 80% of her paycheck on rent.

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

Though she works in tech, the 25-year-old describes drinking a liter of water to stave off hunger, braving the cold with layers because heating’s too expensive, and once having to borrow money from a CVS employee to commute into work.

Yelp’s spokesperson says it agrees with “many of the points in Ms. Jane’s post about the high costs of living in San Francisco.” The company says that high costs are a reason for its recent decision to expand its customer service operation to its Phoenix office, in which “we will pay the same wage or higher in that market.” (The representative did not respond to a follow-up question asking why Yelp would pay employees who live in a cheaper city as much as or more than those in its headquarters.)