Judge grants Senate new trial on discrimination claim
PHOENIX (AP) — A federal judge has ordered a new trial in the case of a former Arizona Democratic Senate policy adviser who complained of discrimination based on race and sex after allegedly being paid less than her colleagues.
U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Rayes, a Republican, acknowledged that a jury concluded last year that the Senate had retaliated against Talonya Adams after she argued that she was fired in 2015 for raising questions about the process of getting a raise. Adams is an African American woman.
The jury recommended Adams receive $1 million after she showed she earned less than many white, male colleagues.
Lawyers for the Republican-led Senate asked for a new trial, claiming that her firing could not be viewed as an act of retaliation because Adams never complained about being discriminated against on the basis on race or sex.
"She simply expressed a desire to discuss a potential raise because her workload had increased and she had not received a raise during the time she had been employed at the Senate," lawyer Michael Moberly said in a motion filed last year.
Adams responded to the request for a new trial with a copy of the jury's verdict form ruling she was in fact a victim of discrimination, the Arizona Capitol Times reported. She argued the request was asking the court to speculate about why the jury reached its conclusion,
"Critically, complaining about pay, alone, is not protected activity unless the complaint also communicates concerns about unlawful discrimination," Rayes agreed, adding that testimony during the trial undercut claims of retaliation.
Rayes cited testimony that reflected Adams discussed discrimination with Wendy Baldo, the Senate's chief of staff.
“This testimony does not indicate that Ms. Adams alleged sex or race discrimination, particularly,” Rayes said. But “whether Ms. Adams was terminated for complaining about disproportionate workload based on race or sex was not a question posed to the jury.”
A hearing is scheduled for April by telephone to decide how to proceed, the Arizona Republic reported.