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Federal housing director facing harassment, retaliation charges

The Federal Housing Finance Agency says on its website that its employees “strive to act with respect for each other” and that they “are committed to the highest ethical and professional standards.” However, according to an employee with the FHFA who made secret recordings of her conversations with director Melvin Watt, those idealistic goals are far from being achieved.

Simone Grimes has leveled sexual harassment, retaliation and equal-pay claims against the agency and Watt. She has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and filed a lawsuit charging the agency with violations of the Equal Pay Act.

Grimes says that in 2015, she was promoted to a new position, but was required to keep doing her previous job at the agency as well. She says she was promised a raise with the promotion, but that Watt needed to sign off on the hike in pay.

"That's kind of when director Watt began his advances," Grimes told NPR recently. "So he approached me at a few functions that were at work to say he believed there was an attraction between us that needed to be explored."

Rather than address his advances, Grimes asked to be paid the same as her predecessor had been paid.

Grimes says her secret recordings of Watt bolster her claims that she was underpaid and sexually harassed.

Watt denies the allegations.

She says he insisted that they meet at his house to discuss her request that the promised raise be materialized. When he began talking about his attraction to her and the possibility that she receive another promotion, she focused on the possibilities of senior roles. She said she insisted that she would only consider the options if there “were no strings attached” and the director “was not expecting anything in return.”

He said that the senior positions had “nothing to do with either your beauty or my feelings.”

Watt is under multiple federal investigations; his five-year term as FHFA director ends in January.

Those facing sexual harassment, retaliation or denial of equal pay should speak to a law firm experienced in employment law litigation.


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