A Senate panel voted along party lines Tuesday to dismiss an ethics complaint against a freshman Republican senator accused of mistreating her former assistant.
Michael Polloni, who worked for Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, during her run for office and was hired as her legislative assistant in mid-December, said he was forced to resign on Jan. 14, three days into the legislative session, following an altercation in Rogers’ office.
An investigative report released Monday corroborated some of Polloni’s complaints, including that Rogers yelled and swore at Polloni on Jan. 14, and that she sent him text messages about work while he was out sick with Covid. Other allegations, including that she berated him about his weight, sister’s sexuality and aunt’s political beliefs, stemmed from one-on-one conversations and Rogers and Polloni disagree on what happened.
The three Republicans on the committee said nothing they saw met the standard of “clear and convincing evidence” required to move ahead with a hearing or disciplinary recommendations.
“A hearing wouldn’t provide further investigation,” said Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa. “It would provide further cross-examination.”
Pace said Polloni is free to present his argument in a court, which has lower standards of evidence and could result in him receiving actual compensation. The ethics committee could only recommend disciplinary action up to and including expulsion, and Pace said nothing beyond a formal reprimand was ever on the table.
Polloni’s attorney, former lawmaker Adam Kwasman, said he will move ahead with legal action against the Senate and potentially Rogers as an individual. Polloni did not actually file a federal workplace discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, making it easier for his attorneys to file a notice of claim against the Senate without waiting for federal approval.
“What they just did was a political outcome,” Kwasman said. “We’ll be pursuing a legal outcome.”
Democratic Sens. Victoria Steele and Kirsten Engel first sought to move ahead with a hearing and then to dismiss the complaint on the condition that Rogers take a four-hour course through the Arizona Department of Administration that is required for state employees in supervisory roles.
Senate rules define unethical behavior in part as “improper conduct that adversely reflects upon the Senate.” Steele and Engel said some of Rogers’ alleged behavior, as supported by evidence, clearly meets that standard.
“There are assistants, pages, other people in this building who are looking at what we do here,” Steele said. “We have evidence to support Mr. Polloni’s accusation that the senator yelled, that she saw him crying, that she swore at him. I don’t want assistants in this building thinking that it’s OK for them to be treated this way.”
Rogers, Polloni and another witness agreed that Rogers raised her voice at Polloni and swore at him on Jan. 14, when she pulled him into her office to discuss office decor. In her interview with the Senate’s investigator, Rogers said she told Polloni “I will talk down to you. You work for me.”
Text messages provided to the Senate’s attorney also illustrate that Rogers texted Polloni about work during eight of the 10 days he was out on sick leave with Covid, despite him sharing that his bosses told him not to work while on leave.
“Rather than leave Mr. Polloni alone to get well, even after hearing that he was told not to work, Senator Rogers continued to ask him to do work,” Engel said. “At one point she berated him on a Sunday for not responding to her on a Saturday.”
Engel said the least the committee could do was recommend Rogers take a course on how to supervise employees, but the three Republicans on the committee rejected that idea.
“It appears at least one senator on the committee appears again to want to mete out some kind of punishment,” said Sen. Vince Leach, R-Saddlebrooke. “That is not in the purview of the committee as far as I am aware.”