Jury awards ex-Senate Dem staffer $1M in discrimination lawsuit

By: - July 15, 2019 2:08 pm

An African American woman who claimed she was fired from a staff job with the Arizona Senate’s Democratic caucus won a $1 million judgment in federal court on Friday.

The jury in U.S. District Court found that Talonya Adams was discriminated against and fired because of her race and sex. The jury reached its verdict after a four-day trial that included testimony from Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who was Senate minority leader at the time of Adams’ firing, the chiefs of staff for the Senate Democrats and Republicans, and numerous current and former senators.

Judge Douglas Reyes scheduled an evidentiary hearing for Aug. 14 on remaining damages in the case. 

“I am very pleased with the verdict, grateful to the jury and certainly feel that justice has been served,” Adams told Arizona Mirror. She declined to comment further on the case, citing the upcoming hearing.

In her lawsuit, Adams said she learned in February 2015 that her non-black male colleagues earned “substantially more” than her at the Senate, and that she was the only policy advisor who didn’t receive a pay raise during the three years she worked at the Senate. She said she had similar job responsibilities, but had a heavier workload and more challenging committee assignments. She also said she was the only female African American policy advisor who couldn’t select which committees she wanted to staff.

Adams emailed Jeff Winkler, the Senate Democrats’ chief of staff, along with members of Democratic leadership to request a meeting on her pay and employment, she said. Hobbs responded that the email was inappropriate because Adams had already spoken about the situation with her, Winkler and Senate Republican chief of staff Wendy Baldo, and said her concerns had been addressed.

Adams, who began working at the Senate in December 2012, requested a pay raise, but received no response, she alleged in her complaint.

The complaint states that Adams had to travel to Seattle in February 2015 to be with her son, who had been hospitalized due to a medical emergency, and used her annual leave time for the trip. She said she kept in touch with her bosses while out of state and performed some work duties from Seattle. On Feb. 20, she said, she was informed that she was being fired for insubordination and abandonment of her job.

Attorneys for the Senate disputed Adams’ account. In its reply to the complaint, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office – the Senate later hired outside counsel to defend the case – argued that the decision to fire Adams was due to “multiple instances of inappropriate and/or unacceptable conduct, failures to adhere to directions/protocols and unauthorized workplace absences.” 

The Attorney General’s Office wrote that Adams didn’t keep in sufficient contact with her supervisors while she was in Seattle, and that she did only a minimal amount of work while out of town. 

The Senate Democrats and Republicans declined to comment, citing the pending nature of the case. Hobbs also declined to comment through a spokeswoman. It is unclear whether the Senate will appeal the verdict. 

Among the current and former Democratic lawmakers who testified at the trial was former Sen. Barbara McGuire, who told the Mirror that justice was served Friday. McGuire, a Kearny Democrat, said she was one of several senators who testified on Adams’ behalf.

“I think she did a great job and presented herself and presented her issues that singled out that she was being treated differently than other staff. And my testimony was impactful, because I had worked so close with her and her with I at the Senate that I knew how hard she worked and I knew how professional she was, and the professional conduct that she exhibited,” McGuire said.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”