A legislative assistant filed an ethics complaint against Sen. Wendy Rogers, alleging a pattern of verbal abuse and physical intimidation that culminated in his termination.
Sen. Sine Kerr, the Buckeye Republican who chairs the Senate Ethics Committee, confirmed she received the complaint and will begin a complaint process laid out in the chamber’s rules. Kerr may choose to dismiss a complaint herself, or share it with the rest of the committee, potentially leading to an investigation and public hearing. The committee could dismiss the complaint or recommended a disciplinary action.
Rogers, who defeated former Sen. Sylvia Allen in the Republican primary in August and won her general election race in November, did not return a phone call or emailed requests for comment.
In his complaint and in a subsequent interview with the Arizona Capitol Times, Michael Polloni, a former Rogers campaign volunteer who started as her legislative assistant in early December, describes Rogers making derisive comments about his appearance and his family, disrespecting his religion, breaking personal items, harassing him while he was on medical leave for Covid, and “pushing me to sign the termination/resignation paper under duress.”
She also repeatedly asked him to do campaign work while at the Legislature in violation of state law, Polloni said. The day his Senate employment ended, Rogers cornered Polloni in her office, yelled in his face and nearly broke his hand by slamming a door he opened, according to the complaint.
“We are at war, Mikey, do you not understand that? You do not understand half of what I know. You were not told what is going to be happening in the coming months,” she yelled, according to his complaint.
In addition, Rogers told him to lose weight so he looked better sitting behind the desk representing her, Polloni said.
“Being me, I was scared that, if I would have reported that or spoke up against her, I would be fired or worse, so I just covered it up in a text saying, ‘Thank you. It meant so much.’ It didn’t sit well with me,” he said.
When Rogers found out the aunt and uncle he was staying with in Phoenix disagreed on politics, she said that wasn’t right and she didn’t understand how they were still married. She had a similar reaction to learning that his sister was a lesbian, saying she “didn’t understand the whole lesbian thing,” he said.
Polloni said he was afraid to challenge Rogers and that he gained a new understanding of the “Me Too” anti-harassment movement he was skeptical of in high school. He didn’t see at the time how someone could endure harassment without reporting it, but now he understood it.
“Once it happened to me, I realized that it’s kind of scary to speak up against your boss, or it’s scary to basically speak up against the social norm,” he said. “I was afraid that I was going to be another victim of her Twitter or another victim of her Facebook, and I was just afraid that she would retaliate against me.”
Rogers’ behavior ramped up after Polloni contracted coronavirus, according to the complaint filed Thursday. He tested positive for Covid on Jan. 3, and was told by his supervisors to remain home on paid leave for 10 days, resting and not working.
“When I had COVID-19, Senator Rogers demanded that I should be working and when I told her that I couldn’t work she got upset,” the complaint said, adding that Rogers got upset that a page and another staffer covered for him while he was out.
A physician cleared him to return to work early, at which point Rogers questioned whether he was ever really sick and told him her “bulls— detector was really going off,” according to the complaint. The Senate still had him stay home until Jan. 14.
When Polloni told Rogers Jan. 13 via text that he would be back at work the next day, she called him angrily, according to the complaint.
“What have you been doing for the past two weeks? Sitting on your butt doing nothing?” she asked.
He came in the next day, Jan. 14, to find that his personal belongings on his desk, including pictures, an Eagle Scout award and a statuette of St. Michael given to him by his grandmother, were missing and he feared they had been stolen. He eventually found his possessions thrown in drawers and at the bottom of a cabinet – and the Eagle Scout award was cracked, he said.
He said pages arrived later in the day to help him and Rogers hang pictures in their respective offices. Polloni and another senator’s assistant shared a communal office that led to separate offices for their senators.
Rogers told the pages Polloni was only allowed to hang two pictures: one with his father and one with her. After they left, she asked Polloni to speak privately, he said in his complaint. When he asked a second assistant to join because he felt uncomfortable alone with her, and Rogers said no, he said.
Polloni said he began the closed-door conversation by apologizing for having caught Covid and telling Rogers he was ready to work. She responded that she was disappointed that he hadn’t continued to work while he was sick, and repeated that she doubted he was really ill, according to the complaint, which first the Arizona Daily Independent first reported.
She also told him she was responsible for throwing his personal belongings in drawers while he was out, and that he couldn’t display them because she considered them “junk.” Rogers, a former Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, told Polloni to think of his office as a military barracks, which should be free of clutter, the complaint said.
In his complaint, Polloni said he tried to explain that he felt disrespected, and he argued that his St. Michael statue should remain in the office because it was a gift from his grandmother that meant the world to him, and he believed St. Michael — his baptismal saint and the archangel viewed as the leader of Heaven’s army — represented the pro-police, pro-military, pro-God values on which Rogers ran her campaign.
Rogers dismissed his complaints about being disrespected at work, and proceeded to yell at him, so close that he could feel her spit on his face, according to the complaint. He then opened the door and called for the other assistant because he didn’t feel safe, but Rogers slammed it shut. If Polloni hadn’t moved his hand, it would have been crushed, he said.
“You work for me. What do you not understand about that?” he recalled Rogers yelling.
Polloni responded that he worked for the state of Arizona and her people, something he said he later realized might not have been a smart move. He again opened the door so the other assistant could hear him asking for the staff member who oversees assistants.
Rogers eventually let him go and the supervisor came to her office. Polloni said his heart was beating rapidly and he was crying while he sat at his desk and began typing up his initial account of what had happened.
About an hour later, after his staff supervisor had spoken to Rogers, Polloni was called downstairs, where he was informed that his employment had been terminated.
Polloni said he’s receiving help from Rogers’ seatmate and political foe, Rep. Walt Blackman, who previously worked as a sexual harassment prevention specialist in the U.S. Army.