By Dee Ford Byas
What began as a request for an overdue raise has resulted in a recent federal court awarding Talonya Adams more than $2.7 million for discriminatory claims involving race, sex, and retaliation.
A staff worker for Senate Democrats, whose professional work practices served in her favor, Adams was awarded the windfall amount on Wednesday, Nov. 10, when jurors concluded there was an injustice done against her.
“This was probably the most stressful time in my life,” said Adams to the Arizona Informant on Monday, Nov. 15, while she worked on further research, filing exhibits and more.
Describing herself as a “one woman show,” with the help of God, her mother and her friend, Zarinah Nadir, a fellow lawyer who assisted her during the trials, Adams detailed the more than six year ordeal. She recounted how she was accused of job incompetence, insubordination, abandoning her role, and having no recourse since she was an “at-will” employee and more after she lodged a work complaint.
While noting how “everybody is an at will employee,” prone to having their “services no longer needed” she explained how workers cannot be retaliated against if they raise concerns of unlawful practices much like that of a whistle blower.
“I just never gave up,” said Ad- ams, 45. “Black people people of color are treated so unfairly.”
She added how many Blacks are without the resources, time, and knowledge to fight cases such as hers that exist too often than not, leaving unjustly fired workers feeling embarrassed, humiliated and financially devastated.
“I think it’s so important to fight for your rights and it’s so important for people to stand up,” said Adams of the need for women and “people of color” to seek justice in a timely and meaningful manner.
“Their knee is on our necks,” said Nadir, noting how many Black people’s jobs are unduly threatened, which impacts their lives and careers. “This is the truth of systemic racism.”
Serving as Adams’ defender in the courtroom, she too stressed the importance of fighting for justice despite the construct of “the institution of systemic racism that ruins careers,” and causes physical and psychological reactions detrimental to one’s health.
She added how thankful she was that the jury in Adams’ case was able to exhibit humanity, a conscience, and to “do what was right,” when learning of how Adams was terminated in 2015 after she inquired about not receiving a raise in over three years since her hire date and having stellar performance reviews.
After a massive workload, including doing the work of others, Adams not only questioned why she was without a raise at the time, but why there was a pay gap between her and her white counterparts who had easier workloads.
“I requested a raise. They gave every excuse,” said Adams, citing reasons given including, “No one had received a raise at all.”
More questions arose, however, when a report was published by a local media entity, she said, revealing the “higher salaries” of the equivalent workers then. Adams was reportedly the only policy advisor who had not gotten a raise while employed despite being grossly underpaid for the abundance of work she performed while even tending to a sick relative.
With a noticeable difference of race and gender, Adams was subsequently dismissed from her duties as a policy advisor when she expressed concerns to her administrators including, Katie Hobbs, who was the Senate minority leader then.
Although not named in the suit, Hobbs now secretary of state and a Democratic hopeful for governor was among those who was reportedly in part responsible for the decision to fire her rather than appropriately address the complaint.
Adams said she doesn’t “think that anybody with indifference to marginalized communities,” should be a strong contender as the next governor. She is not alone in her staunch stance against Hobbs get- ting a raise/promotion to the next authoritative level as a gubernatorial candidate.
A consortium of Black leaders has issued recent statements also denouncing Hobbs and her interests to run for governor of Arizona for her alleged violating of Adams’ civil rights, “blatant racist actions,” and her role in what was deemed a retaliatory termination, according to the African American Leaders’ press release.
“Talonya Adams’ case has shown there are issues with how the state of Arizona addresses pay equity issues. Both Democratic and Republican caucuses rely on the professional work from our employees and salaries should be based on roles and responsibilities, not partisan affiliation,” said Rebecca Rios, Arizona Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee chair, in a prepared statement. “We all serve the people of Arizona, and our staff deserve more equitable pay policies. We hope Adams’ case will bring a renewed interest from our Republican colleagues in ending this discrimination.”