We have choices in life, many of which require us stand up for our beliefs ... even though sometimes there is a price to pay. Speaking truth to power is always worthwhile because in the long run your courage is often the courage the next person needs to also do what is right. pic.twitter.com/YeEYcwxwMB— Simone Grimes (@amillionwaysdc) August 15, 2018
Federal Housing Agency employee Simone Grimes claims she was sexually harassed by her boss when she asked to be paid what she was owed.
Unbeknownst to him, she was making secret recordings of his advances.
Grimes had been working two jobs at the agency in 2015, when she was promoted to a new position but still had to do her old job without getting the pay raise she was promised.
When she went to the agency’s director, President Barack Obama’s appointee Melvin Watt, whose five-year term ends in January 2019, he began to use his position to harass her.
"That's kind of when director Watt began his advances," Grimes said. "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."
As she continued to ask to have her pay match the person who used to fill her position in the past, she was told she had to go to Watt. Still, he continued his advances without giving her a raise.
Then in May, she finally filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and on Monday, she sued the agency for violating her rights, which are protected under the Equal Pay Act.
Grimes alleged that Watt tried to hold up her pay raise to pressure her to have a relationship with him, and that the tapes prove that.
In November 2016, Watt had asked Grimes to meet outside work, so she reluctantly agreed to meet at his house.
There, Watt said, “I'm guilty of having an attraction to you, that is true,” the recordings reveal.
"So it makes me more conscious not to leave some impression," he added.
Watt then reportedly brought up the more senior roles, such as chief operating officer, which she could fill that would offer her higher pay. Grimes then reportedly told him, “Those sound fine, I believe I'm qualified, but I want to make sure there's no strings attached, you're not expecting anything in return.”
On the tape, Watt then responded, “I can certainly draw the line, knowing that this end, what I've talked to you about up to this point, has nothing to do with either your beauty or my feelings.”
Throughout the conversation, Grimes said, Watt continued to remind her he could get her what she wanted.
"Is it better to go through a charade process to get you the job, or is it better for me to just give you the job? Because I don't have to go through a bid process, I don't have to go through an application process," he asked on the tape.
At all times, Grimes said, Watt continued to bring up how she looked and what she wore.
“It was always front and center,” she explained.
After her accusations and passages of the tape surfaced, Watt wrote in a statement that “The selective leaks related to this matter are obviously intended to embarrass or to lead to an unfounded or political conclusion."
He also denied her allegations, despite now being under investigation.
But to Grimes, the conversations she recorded prove Watt is not being honest.
"I was doing two jobs, and I was being paid about 70 cents per dollar [compared] to my predecessor who was doing only one of those jobs," she said. "So I was simply asking to right that."
Still working at the agency, Grimes said that she’s standing up for herself and for others who have suffered similar experiences.
"I have continued to endure this position and try to see it through to the end and be clear with the agency that they are not knocking the wind out of me, I am not losing my stride," Grimes said. "I will continue with this, because I work there, and I know I'm not the only person."
As we have seen in the past, harassment and abuse in government agencies and even in Congress is a reality. Grimes’ story is not the first and will surely not be the last involving government officials using their power to get personal and even sexual favors from employees. But thanks to people like Grimes, we can highlight these stories to help remind victims that they are not alone.
Banner and thumbnail image credit: Reuters/Yuri Gripas