James Paluzzi, GM of Phoenix radio station KJZZ, is retiring following an investigation of allegations that he made inappropriate sexual advances to young male employees.
Paluzzi issued a rebuttal to an independent investigator’s report on the allegations. The report was issued Tuesday with Paluzzi’s response and a KJZZ news story reporting on the investigation and Paluzzi’s retirement.
The June 5 report by attorney Jean Wilcox concluded that Paluzzi, 62, sexually harassed four young male employees and pressured one of them not to report the harassment.
The report said this employee did not file a complaint and initially declined to be interviewed by investigators. He later changed his mind.
“There were four men who described conduct that appeared to fall within the definition of sexual harassment,” the investigator reported. “None of the conduct described was overtly sexual in nature, but Paluzzi’s conduct and words made them feel very to extremely uncomfortable.”
An NPR employee who was interviewed for the investigation said the climate of fear and retaliation within KJZZ “is greater than any other station he works with (including NPR) and greater than he has seen in his entire career.”
The report also described Paluzzi’s efforts to recruit a fifth man he appeared to be romantically interested in and described trips they took together and charged to the donor group Friends of Arizona Public Radio.
Paluzzi has been on paid administrative leave since May 3. In a detailed response dated June 29, he denied all allegations and said his friendly manner and leadership style were repeatedly misconstrued.
He claimed the investigation was retaliation for his opposition to new pay practices by the Maricopa Community College District, the station’s license holder, that would have penalized his employees.
District spokesman Matthew Hasson declined to comment on Paluzzi’s response. But he noted that the manager, who had worked at KJZZ for nearly a decade, opted to resign before the District “made a determination of its next step” in his case.
Hasson said the investigator will issue a second report reviewing the station’s workplace practices and procedures.
“Our position is that our employees deserve a safe environment to work in,” Hasson said.
A separate, unrelated probe of Mark Moran, associate GM who was also placed on leave in May, continues, Hasson said. He declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.
The investigation of allegations against Paluzzi included interviews with 38 current and former KJZZ staffers and two NPR employees. The report cites the accounts of male employees who described interactions with Paluzzi that ranged from awkward to threatening.
Employees who alleged sexual harassment were identified by numbers in the report. The interactions they described included physical contact that made them uncomfortable, comments and questions that were too personal, and an invitation for an after-hours visit to his “crash pad.”
One employee said Paluzzi invited him to a basketball game where he rested his hand on the employee’s thigh several times. He invited the younger man home for dessert.
“He felt very uncomfortable … [but] It was difficult to say no because Paluzzi is his boss’ boss’ boss,” the report said.
In the office, Paluzzi would rest his hand on this employee’s back or arms, it said.
Another employee traveled to Mexico for work with Paluzzi and other colleagues.Paluzzi “asked him a lot of personal questions during the trip about his body, working out in the gym, and commented about his physique,” according to the report. He said Paluzzi suggested another trip together and invited him to a “crash pad” and out for drinks.
Several months later, he said, Paluzzi threatened him. The report described the exchange. During a one-on-one conversation, Paluzzi said, “I wouldn’t want to see you come after me because I have tools or means at my disposal if that were to happen,” according to the report.
A fifth man who talked with investigators was not initially an employee but a blogger based in Spain who wrote about overseas travel. Paluzzi met him while planning a trip to Spain. He tried to hire him as a travel reporter at the station and flew him to Arizona for a recruiting trip.
Together they visited Flagstaff, Sedona and Rocky Point. Investigators reported that Paluzzi gave conflicting accounts of this trip and his explanations “lacked credibility.”
“It is more likely than not that Paluzzi’s reason for taking Employee #5 on trips with him alone was a pretense for getting close to an attractive male at Friends’ expense,” the report said, referring to KJZZ’s fundraising group.
The employee was eventually hired in the development office and continued to travel with Paluzzi and attend non work-related events. The report said the employee denied to investigators that he has a sexual relationship with Paluzzi or felt uncomfortable around Paluzzi.
Paluzzi’s relationship with this employee disturbed the rest of the staff, according to the investigator. Employees who were interviewed described a pattern of favoritism toward good-looking men.
“The special attention he pays to attractive men creates an uncomfortable and distrusting work environment for those who are not given that level of attention or privilege,” the report said.
‘Recruiting at the grassroots level’
Paluzzi’s 21-page response was nearly twice as long as the investigator’s report. In it, he defended his recruiting procedures and friendliness towards staff.
“In the past, at other stations, I have taken potential engineering candidates on snowmobiles to isolated mountaintop transmission sites to see if they were interested and suitable for working with us. I have taken potential station managers to remote communities in Idaho to share with them the excitement of providing public radio to people who would otherwise have no access to [it],” he said. “This is recruiting at the grassroots level that goes beyond administration; it defines leadership.”
Paluzzi was previously VP at Colorado Public Radio and GM of Boise State Public Radio.
He said frequent praise “is an essential part of my management style” and that sharing rooms with colleagues on work-related trips is common practice in public radio.
Paluzzi denied inappropriate and threatening behavior and noted that none was ever reported to human resoruces. He said he was being stalked by one of the employees who complained about his behavior.
He also called the report biased and said it was commissioned after he challenged the District on new compensation policies.
“It remains an open question whether the timing of this investigation is purely a coincidence — or an opportunistic form of retaliation against a Vice President who was confronting the administration in order to protect his staff,” he wrote.
Along with running KJZZ, Paluzzi was VP of the Division of Public Service at Rio Salado College, one of ten colleges in the Maricopa Community College District.
The report said the investigation was sparked by an anonymous letter sent in December 2017 to the District’s Vice Chancellor LaCoya Shelton and its HR department.
Paluzzi’s resignation is effective as of August 11. Bill Shedd, a former associate general manager who returned in May as interim GM, will remain until the position is filled, Hasson said.