Politics

Dems Senate Staffer Wins Millions Over Sexual Discrimination

The Arizona State Capitol.
The Arizona State Capitol. Sean Holstege
For the second time in as many years, a jury has awarded a major victory to legislative staffer Talonya Adams in her damning discrimination case against the Arizona Senate.

In 2015, Democratic Senate leadership fired Adams, a Black woman, from her job as a policy advisor. She argues that her termination was retaliation for speaking out against the discrimination she faced in the workplace, where she was paid far lower than her white male colleagues.

A jury agreed, awarding Adams a towering $2.75 million in damages, on Wednesday.

It is the second time that Adams, who represented herself in federal court, has received a favorable judgment in the case. In 2019, a jury awarded her $1 million. This time around she's slated to receive more than double that amount on top of winning her job back with a $50,000-a-year bump in pay.

The lawsuit cast a harsh light on the practices of the Senate’s Democratic caucus. Adams worked as a policy advisor to Katie Hobbs when she was in legislature. Hobbs, now Arizona's secretary of state, is running for Arizona governor. 
click to enlarge Katie Hobbs - AZ SOS OFFICE
Katie Hobbs
AZ SOS Office

Here's what happened.


In February 2015, Adams asked for a pay raise. She had worked in three legislative sessions in the Senate without a pay hike — unlike the Senate’s other policy advisors. She claimed lawmakers gave her extra analysis beyond her regular duties.

Adams said in court testimony that she told Hobbs and other members of the Democratic leadership that there was “an imbalance” in her workload, which was more strenuous than that of her colleagues.

“I had stated that I felt like I'm being treated differently,” she testified in U.S. District Court in Phoenix. “I didn't feel like I was being heard.”

But instead of addressing Adams’ concerns, Democratic leadership fired her while she was on leave to care for her teenage son, who had been taken to hospital with heart problems.


In 2019, after the first jury decided the case in Adams’ favor, then a Republican-led Senate asked for a retrial, arguing that Adams had failed to prove that she had faced retaliation.

But this week, the new jury decided, unanimously, that Adams had suffered discrimination and retaliation in the Senate.

Hobbs has come under particular scrutiny for her role in the case, given her ongoing bid for the state's top office.

She has issued lukewarm apologies for her role in firing Adams, saying in 2019 that she “should have been a stronger ally in this instance” and that “the fight for equality is something I think about every day.”

But Hobbs still defended her actions on the witness stand this week, calling Adams’ firing a “group decision.”
click to enlarge The Arizona State Capitol. - SEAN HOLSTEGE
The Arizona State Capitol.
Sean Holstege

But already, her opponents in the race have begun to use the new verdict against her.

“This type of discrimination is abhorrent to all Arizonans,” Aaron Lieberman, a former state representative. and Democratic candidate for governor, wrote in a statement. “As Democrats, it is unacceptable from someone who wants to serve as our governor."

Meanwhile, GOP candidate Kari Lake also took the opportunity to blast Hobbs, calling her a "bigot,” and saying that “she should be completely ashamed of herself and drop out of the governor’s race.”

Hobbs had not made any statement on the new verdict Wednesday, and she did not immediately return to New Times’ request for comment. Adams also did not reply to an inquiry from New Times.
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Katya Schwenk is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. She previously reported for VTDigger and the Indypendent.
Contact: Katya Schwenk