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Ex-staffer says Hobbs isn’t 'fit to serve' as Az governor after discriminatory firing

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Ex-staffer says Hobbs isn’t 'fit to serve' as Az governor after discriminatory firing

  • Jeremy Duda/Arizona Mirror

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs isn't taking responsibility for her role, while she served as Senate Democratic leader, in the firing of a policy advisor for what a jury deemed was retaliation for complaining about discriminatory pay, that staffer said.

In U.S. District Court last week, a jury found that Talonya Adams was the victim of retaliation when the Senate terminated her in 2015. A federal jury had previously found that the Senate discriminated against Adams, a Black woman, by paying her less than her colleagues on account of her race and gender.

Hobbs was the Senate minority leader at the time, and has twice testified that Adams was fired because of a "loss in trust" that resulted from her "abandoning" her job duties as a policy advisor.

Adams said Hobbs hasn't owned up to that in her public statements since the Nov. 10 ruling.

In an interview with the Arizona Mirror, Adams criticized Hobbs for attempting to shift the blame for her firing to Wendy Baldo, who at the time was Senate Republicans' chief of staff.

Hobbs declined to respond to Adams' comments to the Mirror.

I do not believe she's fit to serve. She has no constitution. She has no curiosity for the truth. She has no care or concern about individuals whose livelihoods she's been entrusted with. And she's taken no accountability here. – Talonya Adams

Hobbs said in a press statement after the verdict that Baldo was the "ultimate decision-maker" regarding Adams' termination. But Adams said Republican leadership gives deference to Democrats on their internal staffing issues, noting that Democratic chief of staff Jeff Winkler testified Baldo never would have fired a Democratic staffer against the wishes of the minority leader. Baldo, Adams noted, testified that she fired Adams at Hobbs and Winkler's request.

"She's seemingly making this fit within her political agenda and her political ambitions — canned statements and testimony are identical to what she put out in the statement yesterday, all while denying any discrimination happened, all while denying retaliatory termination happened," Adams said. "And then it seems like the new strategy is to blame the Republican chief of staff."

According to testimony and court filings, Adams, who hadn't received a raise since her hiring in November 2012, learned in February 2015 that she was earning less than her colleagues. Adams emailed Baldo and asked about the process for requesting a raise, and was told that she would have to go through Democratic leadership.

After Adams emailed Hobbs and Winkler to request a meeting with the caucus about her salary and other issues related to her employment at the Senate, Hobbs told her that they'd already discussed dealing with such requests after the legislative session ended and that it was inappropriate to request a meeting of the full leadership team. Adams and Winkler scheduled a meeting for the following Monday to discuss her employment.

Adams and Winkler had also discussed via email the likelihood that she would have to take some time off to travel to Seattle to help her 19-year-old son, who had been in and out of the hospital with heart problems. Adams didn't show up to the meeting or come to work that Monday because she'd gone to Seattle. She had left a message for Winkler on a main line number for the Senate Democrats, which Winkler said he was unaware of until he heard from Adams around 1:30 p.m. that day.

Later in the week, Baldo told Adams she was being fired.

Hobbs testified during last week's trial that she should have been a better ally to Adams and that, had she not been new to the job of minority leader, she may have had more knowledge about the position and responded differently.

However, Adams said Hobbs was in a position to fight for her professed values regarding equitable pay — and she didn't do so.

"Frankly, people of color, Black women, they don't need an ally. They need white women like Senator Hobbs to not be discriminating against them. They need real civic leadership that is going to advance progress and equity," Adams said.

In her press statement last week, Hobbs said Republicans in the GOP-controlled legislature pay Democratic staffers less than their own staff, which she called a "systemic" issue that persists to this day.

Adams' low pay was set prior to Hobbs' tenure as Senate minority leader. And Adams noted that Democratic staffers are paid less than their Republican counterparts across the board, which she said the judge rejected as a legitimate practice.

But Adams never asked other minority leaders for a raise, she said — she asked Hobbs. And she believes that request was rejected because she's a Black woman, which she said comes with a "diminished status" at the Senate.

"I don't really take her off the hook because I'd never asked her for a raise before. I never asked another minority leader for a raise. I asked her. And instead of even declining to give me a raise, I was simply fired," Adams said.

Adams wouldn't say she believes Hobbs is a racist, questioning exactly how one would define the term. But she called Hobbs "culturally incompetent" and accused her of having "blatant disregard" for people of color and marginalized communities.

"I really think she has no regard for people of color. She has no curiosity about them. She remains woefully uneducated about diversity, about inclusion, about racial discrimination, about sex discrimination," Adams said.

The verdict came as Hobbs appeared to be cruising toward the Democratic nomination for governor in 2022, and could have grave implications for her campaign. Adams said she has serious concerns about Hobbs, whom she called "a Kyrsten Sinema variant, minus the intellect," referring to Arizona's senior U.S. senator, whom many Democrats believe has betrayed their party's ideals.

"I do not believe she's fit to serve. She has no constitution. She has no curiosity for the truth. She has no care or concern about individuals whose livelihoods she's been entrusted with. And she's taken no accountability here. Instead, she's blaming others and telling patent lies that are woefully different than what she said in sworn testimony," Adams said.

Adams was reinstated to her old position in 2019 by court order, and the jury last week awarded her $2.75 million. However, due to a federal law capping monetary payouts in discrimination cases, she will only receive $300,000.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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