A federal employee told federal investigators that Mel Watt, the former North Carolina congressman who now heads the Federal Housing Finance Agency, sexually harassed her 17 times, according to a copy of a 73-page summary in an investigative report obtained by The Washington Post.
The report by an investigative office within the U.S. Postal Service describes the 17 incidents, including one in which Watt is alleged to have said he would like to see a picture of the woman in a bikini. Investigators said they talked to several people who said the woman told them about the incidents, but the report did not draw any conclusions.
The report was produced after the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity at the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees significant aspects of the mortgage market, asked for the assistance of an independent agency. The Postal Service investigators, in turn, gave a copy of their report to the FHFA on Aug. 13, according to the report’s cover page.
The employee, Simone Grimes, publicly made accusations against Watt last month. She said he blocked her from receiving a promised raise when she rejected his advances. Grimes filed a lawsuit against the agency in federal court in the District last month, and her allegations are also under investigation by the FHFA inspector general.
Watt denied the allegations when they first surfaced in a July report in Politico, before Grimes publicly accused him.
When asked to comment on the report, the agency’s spokeswoman, Megan Moore, referred to a July statement from Watt: “The selective leaks related to this matter are obviously intended to embarrass or to lead to an unfounded or political conclusion. However, I am confident that the investigation currently in progress will confirm that I have not done anything contrary to law.”
According to the investigative report, Watt declined to be interviewed during the probe, citing the advice of his attorney and arguing that as a presidential appointee he did not fall under the FHFA’s “anti- harassment policy.”
Moore declined to comment on whether the agency has taken action based on the report. A spokesman for the Postal Service office also declined to comment.
The independent report includes a summary of testimony from two individuals interviewed by investigators. They said in their testimonies that Grimes told them about the alleged harassment. Their names were redacted from the report obtained by The Post. The report also notes that Grimes began recording conversations with Watt in 2016 and provided investigators with tapes and transcripts.
Grimes’s attorney, Diane A. Seltzer Torre, said the FHFA needs to move swiftly to address the allegations.
“When a month goes by and there is radio silence — no outreach to me or to her whatsoever to discuss next steps — it is painful,” she said. “In a case like this, being ignored after your complaint has been investigated can be as destructive as being actively sexually harassed.”
Grimes, a supervisory program management analyst, continues to work at the FHFA under Watt.
Watt joined the agency in 2014 after spending more than a decade in Congress.
In an interview, Grimes, a senior agency employee, said Watt brought a “folksy, one-on-one touch” to the job and that their initial interactions were pleasant. “I was excited by some of the initial changes that were taking place,” she said. “He has done a lot of good for a lot of people.”
The report says Grimes says the harassment started when Watt, 72, approached Grimes, 44, during a going-away party in 2015. Grimes told investigators she was standing at a snack table with other employees when Watt ushered her away and “asserted that there was an attraction between them that needed to be explored,” according to the report.
Over the next two years, according to the report, Watt repeatedly asked Grimes to meet him outside the office, including inviting her to his vacation home in North Carolina, restaurants, the jazz club Blues Alley and his home. Grimes told investigators she agreed to several of the meetings so she could complain that she was being underpaid after assuming the responsibilities of another employee who had been promoted, the report says.
“The pay issue is one that I feel strongly about, and I am not the only person that this has happened to,” Grimes said in an interview. “It was very eye opening for me. My hope is that other women will start looking into their pay.”
“I do believe the federal sector should be the one place that should be a standard bearer for equal pay,” she said.
When she complained about the pay disparity, Grimes said she was told Watt was the only person who could resolve the issue, and he was “dragging his feet.” When Watt set up meetings to discuss the issue, the topic turned to his attraction to her, Grimes said.
In February 2016, Grimes returned from a vacation in South Africa and Watt asked her to set up a private meeting so they could discuss her trip, she said. They met in the FHFA’s cafeteria, where Grimes showed Watt scenic photos from her trip, according to the report.
Grimes said Watt told her, “I wouldn’t mind seeing pictures of you, particularly in a bikini,” according to the report.
In November 2016, Grimes again met with Watt outside the office, this time at his home. They initially discussed how to resolve Grimes’s pay issue, according to her statement to investigators, and Grimes asked for reassurances that Watt was not expecting anything in return.
Grimes told investigators that “Director Watt acknowledged her repeated refusals, and kept stating that he could ‘draw the line’ but also reminding her how beautiful and gorgeous she was and that he could not help his attraction to her,” the report says.
In an interview for the report, an FHFA financial analyst said Grimes told her, “Director Watt had come on to her and asked her out.”
The analyst told the investigator that she later asked Grimes “if she had talked to Director Watt. Simone said she talked to him and told him she was not interested and wanted his advances to stop.”