Elizabeth Leonard and Natalie Stone
December 21, 2017 07:42 PM

Catt Sadler made the heartbreaking decision to leave E! News on Tuesday after she learned that her co-host Jason Kennedy was earning “double” her salary. Although Sadler’s pay was allegedly half of what Kennedy makes, a source close to the situation says that E! pays female employees fairly.

“The idea of E! not paying women equally couldn’t be further from the truth,” says the source.

“Giuliana made more than three times Jason’s salary when they hosted together,” the source explains about former E! News anchor Giuliana Rancic, who left her post in 2015 after more than a decade at the network.

The source adds, “and another one of his co-hosts also made significantly more.”

Steve Granitz/WireImage

An E! spokesperson said in a previous statement to PEOPLE on behalf of the network and Kennedy, “E! compensates employees fairly and appropriately based on their roles, regardless of gender. We appreciate Catt Sadler’s many contributions at E! News and wish her all the best following her decision to leave the network.”

Sadler agrees that “there are men and women all throughout [E!] that are paid the same” for the same job, and adds, “It’s about the equality of one’s contributions and it’s about the equality of somebody’s past resume and what gets them to that moment. If apples are apples, that’s where the equality must exist.”

She joined E! in 2006 when she landed the job as host of The Daily 10. In the almost 12 years that she worked at the network, Sadler served as co-host on Daily Pop and appeared on E! News evening series. Kennedy, 36, serves as co-host on E! News evening series as well as a correspondent for the network’s red carpet coverage.

“As an E! spokesperson went on the record saying, Catt and Jason’s roles were not comparable,” the source continues. “In addition to co-hosting E! News five nights a week, Jason co-hosts Live From the Red Carpet, one of the network’s most lucrative programs, and hosts E! News Weekend every Saturday and Sunday, while Catt was one of three hosts of Daily Pop and co-hosted E! News twice a week.”

In a statement to PEOPLE on Thursday, a rep for Sadler asserted that “their roles at the network were virtually identical. The only thing about them that was not comparable was their gender — and the fact that she filmed a minimum of seven shows a week to his five.”

Catt Sadler/Instagram

This year, the single mother of two’s — she shares sons Arion Boyd, 12, and Austin Boyd, 16 with ex-husband Kyle Boyd — contract was coming to an end and she was notified by E! executives that they wanted to extend her deal. But about the same time that was happening, Sadler said she was “informed and made aware that my male equivalent at the network who I started with the same year and have come up with doing essentially similar jobs, if not the same job, wasn’t just making a little bit more than me but was making double my salary and has been for several years.”

According to Sadler, E! refused to pay her as much as Kennedy and “didn’t come close — nowhere close, not even remotely close” to matching their salaries.

Despite the significant differences in their pay, Sadler — who says the response to her exit “has been so positive, encouraging and comforting” — doesn’t blame Kennedy for the salary disparity.

“If there has been any downside to this entire thing, it is that my heart hurts because I know that people are dragging Jason and certain people are being very hard on him right now. The only dark side of this whole experience for me, and it pains me to be honest … is that he is an outstanding human being and I don’t want him to be crucified for any of this,” Sadler says about Kennedy.

Adds Sadler: “It is not his fault, he does not make the decision and I believe that he deserves every single penny he is making. But it’s not about that. I would be lying if I didn’t say that people are obviously on social media, not everyone, but certainly some people are really coming after him in this regard and I wish they wouldn’t because he has been a good friend and he has been vocal in a way that unfortunately, the world won’t be able to see or know about. But he has been there and he has defended me and I will leave it at that.”

Moving forward, Sadler hopes to continue being “an agent of change.”

“I’m elated that it’s really striking a chord with people and obviously it just reaffirms what an important issue this is,” says Sadler, who has been praised by both celebrities and those nearest and dearest to her, including her two sons.

“I’ve been explaining what might happen to them for some time. I needed to brace them that, you know, for their entire lives, all they’ve ever known is their mom at E! so this is a big life change for all of us. We’ve been talking about it for weeks now, the possibility that I would leave,” she says about informing her children of her career change. “Austin, my 16-year-old, he’s been sending me little texts and hugs saying, ‘Be brave, I’m proud of you. You’re doing what’s right.’ I’m astonished by his maturity in regards to the whole situation.”

Her youngest son, Arion, also helped his mother with her departure in a sweet (and literal!) way.

“I had to empty my dressing room and my desk and my assistant and good friend, Ginger, was on her way to do that for me and my youngest son immediately volunteered: ‘I want to go! I want to help!’ And so he literally went to E! and packed my shoes up, and my jewelry and boxed everything up,” she shares. “He was just really sweet. He was very much a part of the departure and wanted to help out and I think he’s touched by the change.”

While her choice to leave has “been one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make,” Sadler stands by her decision: “It’s just the right thing. It’s my truth. And that’s how I have to act, according to those beliefs.”

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