The Yelp employee who was fired after her incendiary open letter to the CEO speaks out

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Or not.
Image: AP Photo/Eric Risberg
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Talia Jane, the 25-year-old who worked as a customer support agent for Yelp’s food-delivery app, Eat24, made headlines over the weekend for her scathing open letter to CEO Jeremy Stoppelman about not being paid a living wage.

Jane said she made $12.25 an hour, or $8.15 after taxes, and spent 80% of her paycheck on rent in the Bay Area. She described not being able to afford groceries, instead subsisting largely off an economy-sized bag of rice, plus the free food provided by her workplace.

Not two hours after the letter was posted, she was fired. Yelp has said her termination was not related to the letter, but Jane—in an interview cut short when her grandparents called and wanted to know what was happening—tells Quartz she was informed by Yelp’s human resources department that her letter violated the company’s terms of conduct.

Our Q&A with her is transcribed below. It has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Quartz: What were you thinking when you decided to write that open letter to Yelp’s CEO?

Jane: I know this sounds naive, but the original plan was I didn’t have a plan. I woke up hungry, and I thought I would send some tweets to the CEO and maybe he would see them. I was looking at them and thought these are stupid. This doesn’t show any sense of validity or urgency. This is just a person being annoying. I figured I would write this all out. … And then everything fucking exploded.

You knew that getting fired was a possibility. What was the best possible scenario you imagined would come from your letter?

At first, when I wrote it, I thought maybe he’ll see it and send me an email or something, or someone would talk to me and say, “Take that down and let’s talk about it.”

So you thought the best-case scenario was that they’d try to censor you?

No, not try to censor me, more like, “We hear you. We’re intervening so we don’t have to do this in public.” And honestly, when I first posted it, I expected maybe I’d get five likes on the post and maybe one person commenting, “Oh this sucks, but it’s interesting,” and it’d be from someone I knew. That was my anticipation. Before this, I didn’t have much of a platform or any influence. People just scrolled past me.

And after I wrote it, it got very intense. I got a lot of anxiety to the point I was super shaky and thought, “Holy shit, what if I get fired for this?”

You found out you were fired when you weren’t able to log into your email, right?

My phone vibrated and there was no notification, which my mailbox does sometimes. … I opened my inbox and a popup said I needed to reauthorize my work email, so I tried to log in from my phone, and it said there was an error, so I tried logging in on my computer.

I typed in my email, and I hit next and a little thing popped up saying this email address doesn’t exist with Gmail. They delete all your work-related stuff, and then they fire you so you can’t do anything in retaliation, which makes a lot of sense. But it’s kind of a bad move to make when a person’s post about how they don’t have a living wage is just barely starting to gain traction.

What did HR tell you?

I was told on the phone the letter violated Yelp’s code of conduct. I was told it could take a while [for the severance paperwork to come in]. Especially because I was told one thing and they released a statement showing something completely different, I have a feeling they’re going to take a very long time to figure out exactly how to word it.

What do you think of Yelp’s response afterward—that it is aware of the high costs of living in the Bay Area and thus expanding customer service operations to Arizona?

Instead of paying your employees more, they’re just adding employees elsewhere. As far as I know, they’re not doing anything for their Bay Area employees.

Since I wrote about your letter over the weekend, people have been sending me your photos on Instagram [the account is now set to private] of food and booze to prove you exaggerated or made up your story. Do you have a response for them?

The first time I realized just how much my hands were shaking and how hard it was for me to be able to eat food was yesterday, when I was able to eat a sandwich and my hands and body haven’t been shaking since then. If they’re thinking I wasn’t hungry based off my posts, that’s totally not correct.

Like the one of me in Ghirardelli. If you actually read the tweet from where you found it, it’s literally—I walked in and they gave me a giant sundae.

Or the Pringles. I was on the train and some dude was trying to hit on two chicks, and it went extremely wrong. … It got really intense and the train ended at their stops, and [one of the women] threw a container of Pringles. … At first I thought they were going to roll around and make a mess everywhere. I was sitting there thinking, “Why don’t I eat these?” That’s how I got those Pringles.

There was a time when the guy I was seeing bought me prosciutto and brie. I made stuff from what I got.

You have to understand that a while ago [I decided] I only want to post stuff on Instagram that makes it seem like I’m thriving, even though I’m not, because I don’t want people to worry about me. I dropped a pants size and a half. The ones I’m wearing now used to be my skinny pants. My body’s completely messed up. My kidneys have issues, and it’s not because I was eating prosciutto everyday.

Some theorize that perhaps you knew you were going to get fired and used the opportunity to write this letter and cash in on a quick payday.

To those people who think that was the case, don’t you think I would’ve deleted all those pictures of food? If I was going to plot something out and have it become so big and if I had the skills to manipulate this, don’t you think I would’ve done some critical thinking prior to it blowing up?

After you were fired, people on social media encouraged you to set up various payment accounts to accept donations, and someone also set up a GoFundMe for you as well. How much have you raised?

$1,800 on GoFundMe.

I don’t want to say how much or how little [people donated] because there’d be people who’d say either she’s complaining about it or bragging about it.

I actually had one girl, she sent me $20 and said in a note: “I’m in school, and I can’t really afford to do this, but please get some food or something.” This was on Venmo, and so I messaged her and said, “Send me your email address.”

[I wrote to her:] “I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I don’t want you to be struggling to do such a nice thing. Would it be OK to send this back?” $20—that’s a lot for me, and that’s a lot for her. I don’t want people to put themselves out. It’s not like I’m in a position to refund donations.

What can you tell me about the donations?

There were people sending me through cash.me [Square Cash]. Those get directly sent to my bank account. That’s why I was able to buy groceries.

A lot of what I’ve gotten is between $10 to $20. I’ve seen $5. I’ve seen $2. I haven’t really been able to keep up, but I do check to see who is donating because I do want to be able to someday either shoot them an email saying “thank you so much” or find a way to pay them back, which is probably kind of naive but I want to be aware of people who are supportive.

There’s been trolls, and there’s been supporters. Which side would you say is louder?

I honestly think when I see negativity it doesn’t even register. I feel a much stronger connection to people sending kindness and kind words. But if you took a screenshot of my [Twitter] mentions, you’d see one tweet that’s bad, one tweet that’s good, one tweet that’s bad, one tweet that’s good—about 50/50.

I’ve had so many people who say “thank you for writing this” or “stay strong.” I think because there are people saying negative things that’s prompted others to say, “Hey, want you to know to ignore those people.”