MDHR settles workplace sexual harassment cases with three businesses

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. 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.

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