6/1/2021 2:28:06 PM
Today, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) announced it reached settlement agreements with three businesses across Minnesota after finding they violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act by failing to provide a safe work environment free from sexual harassment or assault. The three businesses were: (1) Mid-America Festivals Corporation that operates the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in Shakopee, (2) Red Cabin Custard in Ely, and (3) the Minnesota Sword Club in Minneapolis.
“Abuse and misuse of authority to sexually harass, assault, or rape workers violates civil rights law,” said Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero. “For employers to effectively prevent sexual harassment, assault, or rape from occurring, they must not only have strong policies, but they must also enforce those policies."
No or Ineffective Workplace Policies
In all three cases, MDHR found the businesses did not have or did not implement policies to help prevent sexual harassment or assault. This fostered a power imbalance between supervisors and workers that resulted in unwanted sexual innuendos, forcible sexual touching, or rape.
In the Red Cabin Custard and the Minnesota Sword Club cases, the businesses chose not to have sexual harassment policies. The only people to whom workers could have reported the repeated sexual harassment were the owners themselves. And, the owners were the harassers.
While the Minnesota Renaissance Festival had a sexual harassment policy, it was ineffective. The policy was not distributed to workers and training on the policy was sparse. Moreover, the Artistic Director was primarily responsible for enforcing the sexual harassment policy and repeatedly violated it himself when he raped a contract photographer and promoted a highly sexualized work environment.
Approximately one in four workplace discrimination cases filed with MDHR involve sex discrimination. Under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, sex discrimination includes sexual harassment and assault.
(Content warning: description of sexual harassment, assault, and rape)
MDHR’s investigation found the Artistic Director of the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, operated by Mid-America Festivals Corporation, raped a contract photographer on the worksite in 2017. During the rape, he threatened to kill her family and ruin her life. The Artistic Director hired the contract photographer and had expansive power at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival.
MDHR also found that the rape was not an isolated event. MDHR determined that the Artistic Director expected performers to engage in sexual acts in lieu of paying rent. The investigation also uncovered that he pressured performers to take nude pictures of them.
The settlement applies to all Mid-America Festivals Corporation operations in Minnesota, such as the Trail of Terror in Shakopee.
MDHR’s investigation found and its lawsuit alleged that the owner of Red Cabin Custard used his position of authority to subject Lorna, then 14-years-old, to repeated sexual harassment. Although it did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement agreement, Red Cabin Custard agreed to have MDHR monitor its business for the next four years to ensure compliance with the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
MDHR’s investigation found that the owner of the Minnesota Sword Club used his position of power to subject an employee to unwanted touching and sexual innuendos. Beginning in 2016, he came up behind the employee, put his groin area on her, and slapped her backside. The owner also told the employee about his sex life, asked about her sex life, and asked her to read stories that he wrote about the two of them having sex.
The Minnesota Sword Club has since permanently closed, and the non-monetary settlement terms apply if the previous owner returns to work.
After finding probable cause of sex discrimination, MDHR reached settlement agreements with each of the three businesses.
“Every business has a legal obligation to ensure their workplace is free from sexual harassment, assault, or rape – plain and simple," continued Commissioner Lucero. “These settlement agreements require just that – structural change to ensure enforcement with strong policies towards safe and welcoming workplaces."
Mid-America Festivals Corporation, Red Cabin Custard, and the Minnesota Sword Club must implement and enforce anti-harassment policies and ensure their staff are trained on what constitutes sexual harassment and assault and how to address it. As part of the agreements, staff must also have multiple ways to report the harassment and/or assault.
To ensure compliance with the agreements and the Minnesota Human Rights Act, MDHR will monitor each of the businesses. MDHR finalized agreements with Red Cabin Custard in May, Mid-America Festivals Corporation in April, and the Minnesota Sword Club in March.
This article was updated on June 3, 2021.