A congressman's accuser: Blackballed and babysitting for cash
North Carolina native Lauren Greene aspired to a career in politics when she arrived on Capitol Hill as an intern in 2009. She spent the next five years climbing the Capitol Hill ladder, ultimately becoming a communications director for a congressman in 2014.
But Greene’s budding career imploded, she said, the minute she accused Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) of sexually harassing her.
Since the summer of 2014, when she says Farenthold fired her for raising concerns about a hostile work environment, Greene has been unable to land a full-time job. She’s making $15 an hour working temporary gigs for a homebuilder. She babysits on the side to earn extra cash.
Her family has had to support her financially. And Greene, now 30, has left D.C., with no illusions that she will ever work in politics again.
“It’s definitely turned my life upside down,” Greene said in her first interview since she made the accusations against Farenthold. “It’s been a tough road. Emotionally, it was tough. Professionally, it’s been hard to figure out next steps. And it’s definitely had an impact on my career.”
She later added: “I was told right away that I would be, quote-unquote, ‘blackballed’ if I came forward. … That’s exactly what happened.”
Greene, in a December 2014 lawsuit, accused Farenthold of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment. She said he told another aide in the office that he had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about her — and that she could wear shirts that showed her nipples anytime she wanted.
Farenthold, a 55-year-old married lawmaker, denied the accusations. The two settled the case, with Greene receiving $84,000 from a congressional fund dedicated to resolving workplace disputes.
While the settlement included a confidentiality agreement barring Greene from talking about her accusations, she spoke with Politico for 35 minutes on Monday about how coming forward has affected her life and career.
Longtime Hill friends of Greene’s told her even before she accused Farenthold that if she came forward, she would never work in Washington again. While Greene was optimistic at first about finding a new job in D.C., she said she noticed a shift in how people treated her. She decided to move south to Charleston, South Carolina, after a few months.
But putting 500 miles between her and the Beltway didn’t erase the stigma. Over the past three years, Greene said she’s applied to dozens, if not more than a hundred, jobs in communications to no avail. One person told her that she didn’t get one job because of her harassment claims against a congressman.
Greene used to keep an Excel spreadsheet of all the places where she applied — but she said, after a while, “I stopped updating it because it was so depressing.”
While the nation has overwhelmingly embraced and supported victims of sexual harassment who’ve spoken out since Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein’s downfall, many victims in congressional offices are loath to come forward, figuring doing so will dash their hopes of careers in politics.
Greene did, and she says she’s paid a heavy price. Her one comfort, however, is her firm belief that she did the right thing.
She moved recently to Charlotte, North Carolina, from Charleston to pursue what she described as a new beginning and promising job opportunities. She’s adamant that her future is looking up — the #MeToo anti-sexual harassment campaign has triggered what she called a “reckoning” in society with the problem she tried to bring to light, Greene said.
Asked whether she’d do it again if she could go back in time, Greene said yes.
“It was the right thing to do to stand up for myself and so that’s just something I take solace in,” she said.
Greene graduated from the College of Charleston in 2009 with a degree in corporate and organizational communications. She began working as an intern for Oklahoma Rep. John Sullivan in September 2009 and was hired full-time in February the next year as a staff assistant.
She worked for Sullivan for about three years, eventually as a legislative correspondent, before jumping to Farenthold’s office to become new-media director in February 2013. She was promoted to communications director about a year later — right around when things started to get dicey.
According to her lawsuit, Farenthold drank excessively and talked to her about not having sex with his wife for years. He told her one time about a female lobbyist having propositioned him for a threesome. That was in addition to comments he made to another staffer about Greene, which that staffer conveyed to her.
Before Greene accused Farenthold of sexual harassment, she sought advice from a male friend in another Hill office whom she looked up to as a mentor. He warned her that she’d be effectively ending her career if she came forward.
She also confided in a woman in the private sector who had worked on the Hill. She gave her the same message.
“The feedback that was given to me was that most likely my career on the Hill was done,” she said. “And the Hill was all that I knew. I started as an intern, fresh out of college and was there for about five years.”
Despite the warning, and being “terrified” of what might happen, Greene contacted the House Ethics Committee about the matter, she said. They sent her to the Office of Compliance, an employment dispute office she’d never heard of, where Greene began the lengthy process of filing a complaint.
“It was about standing up for myself,” she said. “I knew that I would regret it for the rest of my life, not standing up for myself.”
After she came forward, Greene hoped to stay in D.C. and “held out hope that … it wasn’t career suicide,” she said. But she said it quickly became clear that continuing to work in Washington politics was unlikely at best, so she moved to Charleston to be closer to family and “lick my wounds.”
Greene began applying for jobs and picked up freelance work to pay the bills, including with a friend’s vintage store, handling her social media and publicity to pay the bills. Her parents have helped make ends meet, and she’s started baby-sitting on the side to make extra money.
“Living back in the South … the cost of living is a lot lower than D.C. which has been great, and I just have a great support system,” she said, adding: “There’s no way to live off of a temp salary, so I’ve been fortunately to … have a good support system, and I’ve been doing what I can, but it’s been difficult.”
Three years have passed since her accusation and she is still struggling to find permanent employment. At one point, Greene thought she might have been close, but a person close with her interviewer told her the firm decided not to hire her specifically because of the news coverage following her allegations against Farenthold.
Greene said she has also sought advice from HR professionals about whether to disclose her run-in with Farenthold up front because "I don’t want to seem like I’m hiding anything." She’s received mixed advice, but most have told her "that it could be [received] as a negative."
Greene eventually decided to relocate again and moved to Charlotte.
Asked why she thinks her experience was so different from those of other women coming forward now with sexual harassment stories, Greene pointed to the secretive culture of Capitol Hill.
“It’s a boy’s club,” she said. “I think that a lot of things are just understood and you’ve got to play by the rules and keep quiet about it. That’s just kind of the mentality, from my experience. And so, I feel like the feedback that was given to me was: If I wouldn’t stay quiet and fall in line, then my career was over.”
Greene has shied away from sharing her story with the media until now, though several reporters have contacted her over the years to discuss what happened to her since her lawsuit. But after Politico reported that she is the only person who has received taxpayer money from a sitting House member over a sexual harassment allegation, Greene agreed to speak about her experience.
“From Day One, and I’m not trying to sound like I’m a martyr or anything, but I’ve never sought the spotlight,” she said. “I’m not an attention seeker and I don’t like a lot of attention on me.”
On Sunday, a day before Greene was scheduled to do a CNN interview with Anderson Cooper, her mother called her to tell her how much she just wants to protect her from the current “feeding frenzy” over sexual harassment. Greene put her at ease.
“What’s going on right now, I think that it’s a reckoning and we’re talking about … a prevalent problem that has been going on for a really long time,” she said. “So I think now it’s a more supportive environment to tell your story. … That’s why I’m talking to you now. … I’ve been inspired by what’s going on. I’m optimistic. I’m in a good place.”
Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories