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Senate, fired Democratic staffer deadlock on reinstatement terms

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The Arizona Senate and fired Democratic policy adviser Talonya Adams are headed back to court next week after failing to come to terms on her job reinstatement by the court-ordered deadline of Oct. 31. 

Federal Judge Douglas L. Rayes ordered last month that Adams, a black attorney fired by the Senate in 2015 after asking for a raise, must be reinstated and set a deadline of Halloween. On Friday, Adams filed a noncompliance order, saying she and the Senate’s attorney are deadlocked over “retroactive seniority, supervision and the Senate interpretations of its obligations.”

Adams, Senate Chief of Staff Wendy Baldo and Senate GOP spokesman Mike Phillipsen did not return requests for comment. Senate President Karen Fann said in a text message that she could not discuss Adams’ reinstatement because it’s an unsettled HR issue. 

Senate Democratic leadership and staff have not been involved in negotiations, Senate Minority Leader David Bradley said. 

“All I know is they haven’t reached a deal yet,” he said. “I think they’re on the verge of it.”

Adams said in court that she would accept reinstatement at a salary of no less than $100,000 — a sum significantly higher than the salaries of all other Democratic policy advisers in both the House and the Senate. 

She has expressed concerns both in court and media interviews about returning to work for Baldo and Senate Democratic Chief of Staff Jeffrey Winkler, two of the people who supervised her during her previous job at the Senate.

Adams charged, and a jury agreed, that Baldo, Winkler and then-Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, now the Secretary of State, discriminated against her based on her race and gender, and fired her in retaliation. A jury in July awarded her $1 million, though Rayes later limited the award to about $350,000 because of statutory caps on damages in discrimination cases. 

According to court documents, Adams worked for the Senate from December 2012 until February 2015 as a Democratic policy advisor, earning $60,000 per year during her whole tenure. Adams also ran for a seat in the House in 2018, finishing last in a four-way primary in Legislative District 27. 

A few weeks before she was fired, she emailed Minority Chief of Staff Jeff Winkler and then-Minority Leader Katie Hobbs with concerns about her committee workload and whether she was being paid accurately because her timesheets only reflected eight hours of work per day. Adams then met with Senate Chief of Staff Wendy Baldo, who oversees all employees, to discuss those concerns in early February.

A few days later, the Legislative Report, a sister publication of the Arizona Capitol Times, published the salaries of all state Senate employees and Adams learned that she made nearly $30,000 less than a white male policy advisor for the majority caucus who had similar committee assignments. Adams emailed Baldo the next morning to ask about protocol for requesting a raise, and Baldo told her she needed to go through Democratic leadership. 

Adams emailed all six members of the elected Democratic leadership team to ask for a meeting to discuss her position, and Hobbs told her to discuss the matter with Winkler. 

At the same time, Adams planned to travel to Seattle to care for her sick son. She was away in Washington when Winkler learned that she hadn’t completed a briefing project due that day.

On Feb. 20, 2015, Baldo, Winkler and Hobbs agreed to fire Adams, citing a lack of confidence caused by her failure to complete projects before leaving for Seattle. Adams was fired by phone later that day.

She sued in federal court in 2017, alleging that the Senate violated the federal Civil Rights Act by paying her less than white male employees and firing her in retaliation after she complained.

One comment

  1. Why do I get the impression that there is a lot more to this story than is conveyed in this article ?

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