December 20, 2017 04:00 PM

Upon learning that she was being paid half of what her E! News co-host Jason Kennedy earns, Catt Sadler was heartbroken.

“It was a shock. And it’s almost insulting because you know you work really hard. I’m a single mom of two kids, I’ve given my all to this network, I’ve sacrificed time away from my family and I have dedicated my entire career to this network,” Sadler, 43, tells PEOPLE. “And when you learn something like that, it makes you feel very small and underappreciated and undervalued. It’s heartbreaking.”

This year, Sadler’s 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 — who has been at the network for almost 12 years — says 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, 36, and “didn’t come close — nowhere close, not even remotely close” to matching their salaries.

Catt Sadler/Instagram

Although Sadler felt insulted when she learned she was being paid significantly less than Kennedy — who serves as co-host of E! News as well as a correspondent for red carpet coverage — she doesn’t blame him for the pay disparity.

“Jason Kennedy is one of my best friends in the whole wide world. He is like a brother to me. And in no way do I want this to reflect poorly on him. This is not his fault,” says Sadler.

“He’s devastated, I think, and I think he believes that this is a great loss for the network. He does not want to see me go. Jason is a class act. … But it’s important that people don’t vilify him because he isn’t the problem — the system’s the problem, the structure’s the problem. And I really do mean that. Because that’s been a hard part of this whole thing because I love him dearly,” she shares. “And to be honest, he has been such a champion for me in every sense. But it’s not his decision.”

In a statement to PEOPLE, an E! spokesperson said 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.”

Catt Sadler/Instagram

The single mother of two’s — she is mom to sons Arion Boyd, 12, and Austin Boyd, 16 — time at the network began in 2006 when she landed the job as host of The Daily 10. Since then, Sadler was named host of E! News and additionally hosted Live from E! and E!’s Daily Pop.

“It really has been a dream job. Literally a dream job. I’m from Indiana, born and raised, and I had my sights set on E! and I’ve see n the world. I’ve had the best experiences. I’ve gotten incredibly close with all of my coworkers. It’s like a family here and it’s been beautiful for the majority of my run. I pinch myself every day the job that I get to do. I have so much fun. It has almost been surreal,” Sadler says about her hosting position.

On Tuesday, after “a lot of soul-searching,” Sadler said goodbye to E! and the place she has called her professional home in her last live taping.

“It’s been one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make to step away, but after a lot of soul-searching and consulting with my family, my kids — who when I spell out to them the matter at hand, my 16-year-old son is like, ‘Mom, that’s not fair’ — I know that I have to act according to my belief system and I have to say goodbye,” says Sadler. “And so that is why I have chosen to leave.”

She adds, “I think of my heroes: women like [Jennifer Lawrence], who are courageously speaking out. I think about Oprah Winfrey. I think about Maya Angelou. I think about this obligation that I now have, which very much informed my decision that I too have to be an agent of change. And if I stay and do the easy thing, I don’t serve myself and I don’t serve every other female in the world. It was really, these are the conversations I’ve had with myself and my friends and my family and my team.”

“It’s like I now feel inspired and empowered by these women before me who refused to be silent,” says Sadler, “And I now join them in what I believe to be a very important movement towards creating change.”

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