Fired Arizona Senate staffer gets $350,000 and her job back

PHOENIX (AP) — A former Arizona Democratic legislative staffer fired four years ago is entitled to more than $350,000 in damages and should get her job back after a jury found she was discriminated against based on race and sex, a federal judge ruled.

Talonya Adams should be reinstated as a Senate policy adviser by the end of the month, U.S. District Judge Douglas Rayes ruled on Thursday.

Adams, who is African American, alleged she was fired in 2015 after complaining that she was paid less than white men performing similar job functions, according to court records.

The jury awarded Adams $1 million, but Rayes cut that down based on a cap on damages in federal civil rights laws, which is based on employer size.

Lawyers for the state argued that the jury's award should be cut back even more to $100,000 because her employer was the Senate, but Rayes sided with Adams, who said she worked for the larger State of Arizona.

"It's great to have some finality around this ordeal," Adams told The Arizona Republic. She said it remains to be seen whether she can return to a work environment where she won't face hostility or retaliation.

Aaron Latham, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats, declined to comment while officials negotiate with Adams on the terms of her return.

In her lawsuit, Adams argued she was the only policy adviser who hadn't received a pay raise during her tenure and wasn't allowed to pick which committee she staffed, among other inequities.

She said those inequities persisted despite Adams being "a strong performer who did not receive any negative criticisms during her employment."

When Adams emailed Democratic leadership and staffers to discuss her concerns, then-Senate Minority Leader — now Secretary of State — Katie Hobbs called the email "inappropriate," saying staff members already had addressed the issues Adams was raising.

Hobbs supervised Adams' boss and was part of the group that decided to fire the policy adviser.

Senate officials said they felt Adams abandoned her job when she left the state for a family emergency and didn't complete some of her pending projects.

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Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com