PHOENIX - An aide who was fired by Republican state Sen. Wendy Rogers on March 3 filed a $500,000 claim against the state for wrongful termination and harassment he says were caused by the senator.
The claim is a required step before Michael Polloni Jr. can file a lawsuit. If the state doesn’t agree to settle, Polloni can go to court. The claim is against the state and does not name Rogers. But Polloni’s attorney said he may take legal action against her later.
The move comes a day after a divided Arizona Senate’s Ethics Committee dismissed a complaint against Rogers, who was accused by her former assistant of berating and cursing him during a tirade, making comments about his weight, asking him to do political work on state time and to work while he was out sick recovering from the coronavirus.
The three Republicans on the panel agreed that the evidence collected during an investigation by the committee’s attorney did not meet the "clear and convincing" standard required to sustain the complaint and mete out punishment to Rogers.
The two Democrats disagreed, saying there was ample evidence that Rogers yelled and cursed at the assistant and repeatedly asked him to work while he was out sick. They said dismissing the complaint would send the wrong message to other lawmakers and staff.
Polloni, 20, put his college work at Northern Arizona University on hold to take the job helping the newly elected lawmaker in December. He was fired by the Senate on Jan. 14, the day he said Rogers yelled and cursed at him. Rogers apparently played no role in his termination.
"Michael was bullied, harassed, and humiliated during his employment by Sen. Rogers," the claim says. "She accused him of lying about being ill with COVID-19 to get out of work. She mocked his family and his faith. She attempted to force him to do work for her while he was ill and on medical leave. She discarded and damaged his personal property.
"And when Michael had recovered from the virus and was finally able to return to work and get back to the job he had put his college education on hold to pursue, Sen. Rogers assaulted him verbally and physically, and then fired him."
In a written response to the Ethics Committee before it met Tuesday, Rogers called the allegations "a complete fabrication by an outgoing, brand new employee who worked only one official day for the state of Arizona after the swearing-in of senators."
Rogers also said the complaint contains no allegations that she either broke the law or violated Senate ethics rules.
The investigation conducted by a Senate attorney found little corroboration for many of Polloni’s allegations but did locate a witness who backed his claim that Rogers yelled and cursed at him in her office the day he was fired.
Polloni’s attorney, Adam Kwasman, said what Rogers and the state did to his client will impact him for years.
"The Ethics committee report plainly revealed more than sufficient evidence demonstrating ... wrongful behavior by the State of Arizona and Sen. Rogers," Kwasman said in a statement. "Mr. Polloni deserves justice for all he has endured these past months."
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