Sen. Rogers sued by ex-aide

Kyra Haas Arizona Capitol Times//December 21, 2021

Sen. Rogers sued by ex-aide

Kyra Haas Arizona Capitol Times//December 21, 2021

Wendy Rogers speaks at a 2014 fundraiser in Scottsdale. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

A former assistant to Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, is suing the senator and the state for assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and wrongful termination, according to a complaint filed Monday in Maricopa County Superior Court. 

Michael Polloni, who volunteered for Rogers’ campaign before becoming her legislative assistant, alleges that Rogers “continuously badgered him about work-related tasks” while he was out sick with Covid, berated him for his weight and asked him to work on campaign-related projects on the state’s time. She also made derogatory comments about Pollon’s family members and about his religious beliefs, the complaint stated. 

On Jan. 14, his first day back from his Covid recovery and mandatory self-isolation, the situation escalated, according to public records. 

Rogers called Polloni into her office alone, despite him asking the other assistant to join them. She was screaming at him “close enough to his face for him to feel spit from her mouth” and “repeatedly threatening and insulting him.” When Polloni opened the door to try to get the other assistant to come in, Rogers slammed the door, almost crushing Polloni’s hand, according to the complaint. 

During the confrontation, Rogers questioned Polloni’s Covid diagnosis, telling him her “bull—- detector was going off,” and harassed him for following human resources instruction, according to the complaint. 

Michael Polloni

“What have you been doing for the past two weeks? Sitting on your butt doing nothing?” Polloni, in an interview with the Capitol Times in January, said she asked. 

About an hour after the confrontation, an HR staff member told him he was being fired, “that she was not required to give him a reason why, and that he could take the ‘option’ of resigning instead of being fired,” according to the complaint. Polloni resigned “under duress and emotionally shocked,” and felt like he had no other option, the complaint stated. 

Polloni says he was wrongfully terminated. 

“The State of Arizona was not allowed to fire Plaintiff because Defendant Rogers was unhappy with him for becoming ill and for following the instructions from his Arizona Department of Administration supervisors not to work during his illness and quarantine,” the complaint stated. 

This series of events in January led to a Senate ethics committee investigation, but committee members voted along party lines to dismiss the complaint in early March.  

Rogers’ husband Hal Rogers is also named as a defendant in the suit, which says they both benefited from Rogers’ actions as an elected official and from her efforts to create a persona as “a ‘tough’ conservative politician.” 

“Defendant Hal Rogers implicitly has consented to Defendant Rogers’ pattern of conduct including the outrageous, extreme, and offensive conduct described herein by remaining married to her and fully supporting her in her political career,” the complaint stated. 

Following the ethics complaint’s dismissal, Polloni quickly retained counsel and has since obtained a right to sue letter from the US Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission. He’s seeking $300,000 in damages in the lawsuit.  

“We are confident that, especially in light of recently-upheld awards against the State for wrongful termination, Arizona jurors will not tolerate continued abuse of State employees by either elected officials or administrators,” Adam Kwasman, Polloni’s co-counsel, said in a written statement – referencing the recent ruling in the Talonya Adams case. 

In November, Adams, a Senate policy adviser, was awarded $2.75 million by a federal jury after it found she was fired due to racial and sex-based discrimination in 2015.  

Adams, a Black woman, was working under then-Senate Minority leader Katie Hobbs at the time and had requested a raise, saying she was paid less than white and male colleagues, before she was fired. Hobbs, a Democrat, is now Secretary of State and is running for governor.  

A federal jury also sided with Adams in the initial trial in 2019, awarding her $1 million in damages and ordering the Senate to reinstate her. Then-Senate Chief of Staff Wendy Baldo and Democratic caucus Chief of Staff Jeffrey Winkler were also found to have discriminated against her. 

Earlier this year, a different lawsuit against Rogers made its way to the Arizona Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in September and has yet to issue a decision. The defamation suit was brought by the modeling company that employed her 2018 congressional primary opponent, Steve Smith, alleging a Rogers campaign ad suggested Smith and the company were engaged in sex trafficking.