PHOENIX — A former policy adviser to Democratic state lawmakers has been awarded $1 million by a Federal Court jury in Phoenix that found that legislative staffers and lawmakers, including current Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, had engaged in racial and sexual discrimination.
Talonya Adams, who is African American, sued the Arizona State Senate two years ago after she was fired as a policy adviser to the Senate's Democratic minority caucus.
Adams, who is an attorney and represented herself in the lawsuit, was hired in late 2012 as a policy adviser and fired in February 2015, within weeks after raising questions with Senate staff about her pay and workload compared to other staffers, according to Adams' complaint.
Adams says she was paid $60,000 a year but never received a raise.
"Plaintiff was a strong performer who did not receive any negative criticisms during her employment," the complaint says.
"On or about February 12, 2015, Plaintiff learned that male non-African American counterparts at work received substantially higher salaries and salary increases. Although the job responsibilities were the same, Plaintiff had a heavier workload and the more challenging committee assignments."
Adams says she emailed the Democratic chief of staff as well as leadership requesting a meeting about her status.
Hobbs, who was Senate minority leader at the time, told Adams that her email was inappropriate because her concerns had been addressed by staff, according to the complaint.
Not long after raising the pay and workload issue, Adams says, she had to leave for Seattle to deal with her son's medical emergency. She says she was told to use annual leave for time off.
On Feb. 20, 2015, she was fired for insubordination and abandoning her job, Adams' complaint says.
Attorneys for the state Senate contended that Adams ignored protocols in pursuing her complaints, failed to inform supervisors in advance of the Seattle trip and let important work assignments slide.
"Prior to her February 20, 2015, termination, Plaintiff did not ever express any belief to any of these three decision-makers that she was being discriminated against with respect to her pay, workload or otherwise on the basis of her race or sex, nor were any of them aware of any such complaints by Plaintiff," according to a defense filing.
Court records indicate there were at least two attempts to settle the lawsuit out of court.
Senate Republicans' chief of staff, Wendy Baldo, worked with her Democratic counterparts in dealing with Adams' requests, as did the Senate minority chief of staff, Jeff Winkler.
The $1 million damages award announced Friday covers liability and compensatory damages. A second court hearing in August will decide non-compensatory damages.
Adams didn't ask the jury for a specific monetary award, only "a just amount." She declined to comment Monday, pending the August hearing.
In a statement to 12 News, Adams said: “I am pleased with the verdict, grateful for a fair and impartial jury, and certainly feel that justice has been served.”
The eight-person jury of five women and three men found unanimously for Adams. Seven of the jurors were white, the eighth was Latino.
Hobbs, who testified on Friday, is not commenting, according to her spokeswoman. A spokesman for Republican Senate leadership also declined to comment.
The current Senate minority leader, David Bradley, of Tucson, declined to comment because of pending litigation.