The Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) has settled workplace sexual harassment cases with three businesses after finding they violated the state's civil rights law.
The cases against Mid-America Festivals Corporation, which operates the Minnesota Renaissance Festival and Trail of Terror in Shakopee; Red Cabin Custard, a restaurant in Ely; and the now-closed Minnesota Sword Club in Minneapolis involved supervisors using their positions of power to sexually assault, harass or rape workers, violating the Minnesota Human Rights Act, MDHR said in a news release Tuesday.
“Abuse and misuse of authority to sexually assault, harass, or rape workers violates civil rights law,” MDHR Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said in a statement. “For employers to effectively prevent sexual assault, harassment, and rape from occurring, they must not only have strong policies, but they must also enforce those policies."
MDHR found the businesses didn't have or didn't implement policies to prevent sexual assault and harassment, which resulted in unwanted sexual innuendos, forcible sexual touching and rape.
“Every business has a legal obligation to ensure their workplace is free from sexual assault, harassment, and rape – plain and simple," Lucero said. “These settlement agreements require just that – structural change to ensure enforcement with strong policies towards safe and welcoming workplaces."
Here's what MDHR discovered in its investigations:
Mid-America Festivals Corporation
According to MDHR's investigation, the Minnesota Renaissance Festival's artistic director raped a contract photographer he'd hired at the festival in 2017.
During the rape, he threatened to kill her family and ruin her life.
In a statement, the photographer said:
"More than three years ago, my life was turned upside down. In the three years since, I have been made to feel unsafe, invalidated, and unworthy of support over and over again. I had to move my family across the country. I was forced to close my business. And when I couldn’t travel to the courtroom because traveling in the pandemic would put a loved one at risk, my criminal case was dismissed.
"Today, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights gives me the validation I deserve. I am a victim, a survivor. My voice deserves to be heard. The person who harmed me deserves to be held accountable as well as the company that ignored his behavior for years. I'm grateful for my family and every person who chose to believe me and show me they care. I'm in awe of the courage of countless survivors who've endured similar injustices and continue to march on. I stand with you in solidarity."
MDHR learned the artistic director, Carr Hagerman, expected performers to engage in sexual acts in lieu of paying rent and that he pressured performers to take nude pictures of them.
Hagerman was charged with raping the photographer in 2018, but these charges were dropped in 2020 ahead of the trial as the alleged victim wasn't able to travel to Minnesota due to the pandemic. The charges are expected to be re-filed in 2021.
Related [June 2018]: Charges: Renaissance Festival director raped photographer
The department noted the Minnesota Renaissance Festival had a sexual harassment policy but it was ineffective, saying it wasn't distributed to workers and training on the policy was "sparse." MDHR also said the artistic director was responsible for enforcing the policy but he repeatedly violated it and promoted a "highly sexualized work environment."
The settlement agreement was finalized in April. It applies to all Mid-America Festivals Corporation operations. That also includes the Trail of Terror in Shakopee, which has made headlines in recent months after a 31-year-old supervisor with the company was charged, accused of sexually assaulting at least three teenagers between 2012-2017.
Red Cabin Custard
In 2015, the owner of the restaurant used his position of authority to subject a 14-year-old girl to unwanted touching, graphic sexual innuendos, and sexual depictions of genitals, MDHR said.
The investigation revealed that over time, the owner's sexual comments grew more personal and extended to children and that the owner had a pattern of harassing employees.
In a statement, the victim said:
“I pursued this case because I felt it was my duty as a young girl with a voice to fight for the girls without voices, the girls that have been too scared to report, the girls that haven’t been listened to. My former boss and bosses like him need to know that they do not have the power to stifle my voice nor any other young girl's voice when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace."
MDHR finalized the settlement agreement in May.
Minnesota Sword Club
MDHR found the owner of the Minneapolis fencing club in 2016 used his position of power to touch a woman and slap her backside, as well as tell her about his sex life, ask her about hers and read stories he wrote about them having sex.
The Minnesota Sword Club is permanently closed but the terms of the "non-monetary settlement," which were finalized in March, will apply if the owner returns to work, MDHR said.
As a result of the settlements, each business must implement and enforce anti-harassment policies and ensure employees are trained on what constitutes sexual harassment and assault, as well as how to address it. The businesses must also give staff multiple ways to report harassment and/or assault.
The Human Rights Department will monitor each of the businesses to ensure they comply with the settlement agreements.
MDHR says about one in four workplace discrimination cases filed with the department involve sex discrimination, which includes sexual assault and harassment.
If you believe you are the victim of sexual assault, sexual harassment, or any other type of discrimination covered under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, call the Discrimination Helpline at 1-833-454-0148 or submit this online form.