Peeved judge orders fired Senate staffer, chamber to negotiate reinstatement

Julia Shumway//November 15, 2019

Peeved judge orders fired Senate staffer, chamber to negotiate reinstatement

Julia Shumway//November 15, 2019


Fired state Senate employee Talonya Adams and an attorney for the Senate must spend Monday morning holed up in a room together to work out the details of Adams’ reinstatement, and not come out until they reach an agreement, an exasperated federal judge ordered Friday.

Judge Douglas L. Rayes ordered last month that Adams be reinstated to her position as a policy adviser for the Senate Democratic caucus, a job she was fired from in 2015 in what a jury ruled was retaliation for complaining that she was paid less than her white, male colleagues.

But the Oct. 31 deadline for her reinstatement passed without her rejoining the Senate, as Adams and the Senate’s attorney, Michael Moberly, deadlocked over her salary, seniority and supervisor.

Talonya Adams
Talonya Adams

During a 30-minute phone conference Friday afternoon, Rayes told Adams and Moberly to explain their disagreements to him and meet in person Monday.

“I don’t think you’re that far apart,” he said. “It think it’s just a matter of working out some issues.”

Adams accepted a salary of $113,300 — the same rate as three senior GOP policy advisers, and thousands of dollars more than Democratic senior policy advisers — while on the phone Friday. But she said issues with seniority and who will supervise her still remain.

She wants the Senate to list her start date as her initial date of hire in 2013, and give her the retirement benefits, vacation and sick time accrual rates she would have if she remained employed at the Senate from 2013 on.

The Senate is open to allowing those accrual rates, Moberly said, but isn’t on board with giving Adams the time off she would have accrued during four years of employment. That was addressed, and denied, during the trial itself, he said.

Adams also said she has legal standing to ask to be supervised by someone other than Jeffrey Winkler, the Democratic Chief of Staff. Winkler, Senate Chief of Staff Wendy Baldo and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who was the Senate minority leader when Adams was fired, were the three people Adams named as discriminating against her.

Having Adams report to someone other than Winkler just won’t work, Moberly said. Both caucuses have small partisan staffs — 10 on the Republican side and nine on the Democratic side — and Winkler supervises all Democratic employees.

“The problem is, we’re not Microsoft,” he said. “There’s only one supervisor she can report to in that role.”

Adams called the Senate’s offers of employment “grossly inconsistent” with Rayes’ order of reinstatement. Rayes, meanwhile, said he saw evidence in emails provided to him under seal that the Senate was operating in “good faith,” and told Adams she needs to negotiate as well.

“It’s gotta be a two-way street,” he said. “They’re not required just to give you everything you ask for.”