Payless pays 2 teens it fired $1,500 and a personal apology

August 18, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

The company that Kate Nieberlein thought was a callous heel has turned into a kind soul.

The 17-year-old Eldersburg teen-ager's first job experience ended in disaster last month when Payless Shoe Stores fired her for being underage.

Last week, the shoe chain, which has two outlets in Carroll County, admitted its error and gave her a $1,500 check along with a personal apology.

"We made a mistake and we apologize," Rick Nida, director of corporate communications for Payless in Topeka, Kan., said yesterday.

"We projected what we thought the girls would have made had they worked for us this summer and came up with $1,500."

Kim Foley, 17, of Gamber, who had the same experience at the store, has received the same compensation: $1,385.25 after taxes, Mr. Nida said.

"Now instead of telling what Payless Shoes did to me, I am telling people what they did for me," said Kate, who had told the immediate world of her initial bad experience.

After working for a week helping Payless open its new store in Carrolltown Center, Kate and Kim were fired.

The manager cited a store policy that says that employees must be at least 18 years old. Both teen-agers had listed their ages correctly on job applications.

"Nobody noticed I was the wrong age, when I worked all those hours unloading boxes and carrying them into the store," said Kate.

Kate and Kim were paid for the hours they worked, and were dismissed with apologies and thanks for their help.

Kate said she lost several weeks of potential earnings as she looked for another job, which she hoped would pay her car insurance bill.

She eventually found part-time work at Martin's Food Store in Eldersburg.

Kim was able to return to the waitress job she had quit when she hoped to work more hours at the shoe store.

When John Dryden, Payless' Baltimore operations manager, called Kate on her birthday last week, she wondered, "What do they want now?"

Mr. Dryden asked for 15 minutes of her time. Kate delayed her meeting with the manager a day. She said that she didn't want any dealings with the store to spoil her 17th birthday celebration, but agreed to meet him at the Carrolltown store the next day.

"He said he had a birthday surprise for me," said Kate. "I thought it would be a pair of shoes."

She could buy a lot of shoes with the surprise, she said, and is "most appreciative" of the check, which she promptly deposited in a savings account.

With her insurance money, she said, she can finally see a license to drive in her future.

"I didn't think the store cared about what happened to two people, but it looks like they did," said Kate.

A friend of Kim's said she is sticking to her original plan for summer earnings and is saving her check for college next year.

"The manager told us they were under a deadline to open and they broke their own rules," said Kate's mother, Maureen Nieberlein. "Now they have made amends in a generous way and they apologized in person."

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