North Carolina‘s Watt, now at FHFA, accused of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment allegations against former North Carolina Congressman Mel Watt are at the center of a $1 million lawsuit filed this week against Watt’s agency, the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

A woman at the agency says she was paid less than her male predecessor, and that when she tried to discuss it with Watt, he sexually harassed her.

The allegations and which allegedly between Watt and the woman accusing him. that Watt‘s accuser recorded conversations with him on her cell phone over a year and a half.

Watt, in a statement issued through the agency, said “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,” Watt said in his statement. “I will have no further comment while the investigation is in progress.”

The lawsuit contends that Simone Grimes took on new responsibilities at the agency, doing her job and the job of a man who had moved into a new position. The lawsuit says Grimes wasn‘t given the raise she‘d been told to expect, and that she later discovered she was making $70,000 a year less than her predecessor, $100,000 including benefits and bonuses.

Grimes raised this issue with a supervisor who referred her to Watt, who asked to meet with her, the lawsuit states.

“And when she agreed to meet with him in the hopes of discussing the pay equity issue, he would sexually harass her,” the lawsuit states.

Politico has reported that Watt offered at one point to kiss one of her tattoos, asking if it would “lead to more.” In another conversation Watt arranged for the two to meet out of office “because of perceptions,” Politico reported.

“Well, you probably want to know what I wanted to talk to you about,” Watt said, according to the transcript Politico referenced. “I mentioned to you there is an attraction here that I think needs to be explored. In my experience there are four types of attraction: emotional, spiritual, sexual or of friendship. So, the exercise here is to find out which one exists here.”

Grimes seeks a jury trial, back pay, lost benefits and $1 million in damages. She‘s also asked for a permanent injunction enjoining the FHFA from paying female employees less than men make for equal work.

Watt served 20 years in Congress, representing North Carolinians from Charlotte to Durham. President Barack Obama tapped him head the FHFA in 2014. The FHFA oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which back most of the mortgages in the the United States.