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Fired Arizona Senate staffer awarded $2.75M for race, sex discrimination

A former Black Democratic state legislative staffer was awarded $2.75 million by a federal jury Wednesday, ruling unanimously that she was fired for complaining that she was paid less than her white and male colleagues in the Arizona Senate.

The verdict was Talonya Adams' second courtroom victory over the Senate regarding her discrimination claims. Adams was fired in 2015 while serving under Katie Hobbs, who was the Senate minority leader at the time. Hobbs is now the secretary of state and is the leading Democratic contender for governor in 2022.

The jury on Wednesday awarded Adams $2,750,000 — $2 million for the retaliatory firing and $750,000 for the discrimination against her. The news of the jury award was first reported by 12News reporter Brahm Resnik.

Adams did not respond to requests for comment.

In 2019, a jury found that that the Senate discriminated against Adams, a Black woman who worked as a policy advisor for the Democratic caucus, on the basis of race of sex. She'd filed suit in 2015 arguing that she was unfairly being paid less than white, male colleagues. The court awarded Adams $1 million in damages and ordered that the Senate rehire her.

U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Rayes granted the Senate a retrial earlier this year, but only on the allegation that she was fired for complaining that her salary discriminatory. The Senate argued that Adams never presented any evidence that she'd claimed her low pay was the result of race or sex discrimination, and that her firing therefore could not have been retaliation for such complaints.

The earlier claim about discriminatory pay stood, though Rayes reduced the restitution owed by the Senate to about $350,000.

After learning that she earned less than male and white policy advisors, and that she was the only policy advisor who hadn't received a raise during the nearly three years she'd worked there, Adams asked for an increase to her salary in early 2015, but got no response. She'd emailed Senate Democratic chief of staff Jeff Winkler about the issue, but was rebuffed by Hobbs, who responded that Adams had already spoken with her, Winkler and his Republican counterpart, Wendy Baldo, and that her concerns had been addressed.

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That same month, Adams took time off to go to Seattle to help her son, who'd been hospitalized due to a medical emergency. She said in her initial lawsuit that she kept in touch with her bosses and performed some work while out of state, but was fired when she returned for alleged insubordination and abandonment of her job.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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