September 27, 2018 / 4:53 PM / 21 days ago

Fannie, Freddie regulator harassed a subordinate, Congress told

WASHINGTON, Sept 27 (Reuters) - Mel Watt, a top regulator for the U.S. housing market, sexually harassed a subordinate when she tried to speak with him about her career, his accuser told lawmakers on Thursday in a House hearing on oversight of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).

Watt, the day-to-day regulator for mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in his role as director of the FHFA, is scheduled to testify in the hearing later on Thursday. He was not available for immediate comment. He has previously denied breaking the law.

Simone Grimes, 44, a senior official with the FHFA, told lawmakers that Watt, 73, made romantic advances when she tried to talk with him about a possible promotion in 2015.

“I felt vulnerable and unsafe,” Grimes told the hearing. “Director Watt more than once implied that his advances were linked to my ability to receive promotions and pay increases.”

Grimes said her career at the FHFA stalled after she rebuffed Watt and that she has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which investigates cases of possible discrimination at work.

The FHFA’s internal watchdog, the Inspector General, is examining the allegations and Grimes has filed a civil suit.

Grimes’ allegations were first reported by Politico in July and at the time Watt said he was “confident that the investigation currently in progress will confirm that I have not done anything contrary to law.”

Separate lawyers are representing Watt and the FHFA in the Grimes matter, the agency said in a statement on Thursday morning.

“The Federal Housing Finance Agency takes allegations of discrimination and sexual harassment very seriously,” said spokeswoman Megan Moore.

Watt, a former Democratic congressman from North Carolina, was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2014 to head the independent housing regulator. His term is due to end in January, paving the way for Republicans to overhaul Fannie and Freddie which back trillions of dollars worth of U.S. mortgages.

The hearing, against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, occurred at the same time as the Senate took testimony from a university professor who alleges that Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, sexually assaulted her 36 years ago. He has denied the allegations. (Reporting By Patrick Rucker and Pete Schroeder; editing by Michelle Price and Bill Rigby)

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