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Former Arizona Senate Staffer Represents Herself In Court, Scores $1M Award in Racial and Gender Discrimination Case

A former Arizona Senate staffer has been awarded $1M in damages from the state of Arizona after a federal jury agreed that she was the victim of racial and sex discrimination — and then fired for speaking up about it — the Arizona Republic reported. 

Talonya Adams, a Black woman, was axed from her position as a policy adviser to the Senate’s Democratic caucus in 2015, not long after she began questioning her salary and workload, according to the suit. Adams, who represented herself in the case, claims she was paid far less than her white male counterparts and cited differences in the amount of leave she was allowed to take.

Talonya Adams

Former Arizona policy adviser Talonya Adams claimed she was paid less than her white male counterparts and was denied a raise during her tenure. (Image courtesy of @TalyonaAdams / Twitter)

“Plaintiff learned that male non-African American counterparts at work received substantially higher salaries and salary increases,” the complaint filed by Adams states.

“Although the job responsibilities were the same, Plaintiff had a heavier workload and the more challenging committee assignments,” it added.

In her suit, Adams also alleged that she was the only policy adviser who didn’t receive a raise during her tenure, despite being “a strong performer who didn’t receive negative criticisms during her employment.”

The staffer voiced her concerns in an email to then-Senate minority leader and current Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, only to have them ignored. She claims Hobbs dubbed her email “inappropriate,” arguing that her staff had already addressed the concerns Adams was raising.

When Adams asked for a raise directly, citing the higher salaries of her white colleagues, she got no response.

Days later, Adams had to travel to Seattle for a family medical emergency and was told she would have to use annual leave. She maintained contact with her supervisors during her time away, according to the suit, and even “performed some of her work duties.” Still, she was abruptly terminated for “insubordination and abandonment of her job.”

Attorneys for Senate leadership responded to the claims laid out in Adams’ lawsuit, arguing said that she never raised questions about race and gender discrimination before her firing. Chief of Staff Wendy Baldo also pointed to several issues with Adams’ work and claimed the former staffer didn’t use the proper channels to voice her concerns to supervisors.

In regard to the salary issue, Baldo claimed Adams was paid comparably, if not, better than similarly situated Democratic policy advisers despite being “the least experienced.”

Senate lawyers also argued in court that it wasn’t appropriate to compare the earnings of Adams, a Democratic policy adviser with a law degree and prior public policy experience, with that of Republican policy advisers because “the majority caucus pays differently than the minority caucus.”

Still, a jury panel believed otherwise.

On Monday, a jury sided with Adams’ claims of discrimination, awarding her $1 million in compensatory damages for emotional distress and any loss of “enjoyment of life” — and there could be more where that came from.

A hearing to consider non-compensatory damages has been scheduled for August 14, when an additional award to Adams could be handed down. 

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