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Black Former Arizona Senate Staffer Wins Lawsuit Alleging She Was Paid Less Than White Peers; One of the Politicians Responsible Apologizes: ‘Sorry for the Real Harm I Caused’

In 2015, a Democratic policy adviser was fired from the Arizona Senate after sending emails to her supervisors expressing that she was being paid less than her white male counterparts because of her race and gender.

After a court determined that Talonya Adams was wrongfully terminated, one of the persons responsible for her getting axed is apologizing.

Katie Hobbs records video apology. Talonya Adams does news conference after ruling. (Video Screengrab)

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, one of the leading candidates in the state’s Democratic gubernatorial primary race is saying sorry for her part in the firing.

In a video posted on her Twitter profile and in a written statement on her website last week, Hobbs said, “Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard from several of you about my response to the discrimination that Talonya Adams faced as an employee in the Legislature.”

“I understand that my response fell short of taking real accountability,” she offered. “Please allow me to state as clearly and unequivocally, I apologize to Ms. Adams. I am truly sorry for the real harm I caused Ms. Adams and her family.”

She continued to say that her response to the jury’s verdict was “short-sighted,” “unnecessarily defensive” and “failed to meet the moment.” 

Adams was not impressed. She told reporters in a Dec. 9 news conference outside of a federal court building in Phoenix, “Her response is a response to a political crisis. It’s not a response to racism.”

“Her statement is not an apology. It’s designed to allow her to get over a political hurdle,” she continued.

Adams also told reporters that Hobbs made people think that she was incompetent and thus she will be filing a notice of claim. 

In February 2015, Adams emailed Minority Chief of Staff Jeff Winkler and then-Minority Leader Katie Hobbs about what she believed was being under-compensated for her service, stating that she did more work than the eight-hour days that her timesheets reflected. She also met with Senate Chief of Staff Wendy Baldo in person to talk about this issue.

Days later, she read in the Legislative Reporter that a white male policy adviser for the majority, Garth Kamp, was getting paid $30,000 more than she was despite doing a very similar job to hers.

After receiving the proper protocol from Baldo, she proceeded to bring her concerns via email to the elected Democratic leadership, of which Hobbs was a member. Adams then left for Seattle to see her ailing son but did not complete a briefing project before she left.

When Winkler found out, he brought the fact that her work was undone to Baldo, Winkler, and Hobbs. The three agreed on Feb. 20, 2015, to fire Adams, stating that they didn’t believe that she could do the work and pointed to the incomplete project as evidence of their lack of confidence. She was told by phone that she was terminated from the position she had held since December 2012.

In 2017, Adams’ first federal suit alleged that the Senate violated the U.S. Civil Rights Act by not practicing fair pay equity, using a comparative study of her check and that of Kamp’s. She then noted that the collective fired her in retaliation to her complaining about the discrepancies in their earnings.

Two years later, a federal jury decided that Adams was, in fact, discriminated against because of her race and gender. 

The Associated Press notes that she got her job back as a result of this decision and a $1 million award. After this ruling, a federal judge ordered a new trial.

The three-day trial ended on Nov. 9 with the same result, awarding Adams $2.75 million in damages, an amount rolled back because of the employment discrimination judgments cap of $300,000 under federal law. After factoring in back pay and compensation for lost benefits, she walked away with $353,617.88.

Hobbs, who is in the hot seat during this campaign season about her stance on race and gender, atoned, “I know that the disappointment felt by many Arizonans didn’t start with the verdict in this case. What Ms. Adams experienced is yet another example of the systemic inequities and racism that have long permeated every aspect of our lives, too often in ways that are invisible to people like me.”

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