RELEASE: MDHR Reaches Settlements in Three Workplace Sexual Harassment Cases

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June 1, 2021 

Taylor Putz

Minnesota Department of Human Rights Reaches Settlements in Three Workplace Sexual Harassment Cases

Supervisors used their positions of power to sexually assault, harass and, in one case, rape workers, violating Minnesota’s civil rights law

Settlements require structural change

[St. Paul, MN] 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 assault and harassment. 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 assault, harass, or rape workers violates civil rights law,” said Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero. 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."

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 assault and harassment. This fostered a power imbalance between supervisors and workers that resulted in unwanted sexual innuendos, forcible sexual touching, and 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 advances 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.

Cases demonstrate sexual harassment is pervasive and persistent

Approximately one in four workplace discrimination cases filed with MDHR involve sex discrimination. Under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, sex discrimination includes sexual assault and harassment.

(Content warning: description of sexual harassment, assault, and rape)

Mid-America Festivals Corporation

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.

"More than 3 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," said the contract photographer. "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 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.

Red Cabin Custard

MDHR’s investigation found the owner of Red Cabin Custard used his position of authority to subject Lorna, then 14-years old, to unwanted touching, graphic sexual innuendos, and sexual depictions of genitals in 2015. Over time, the owner’s sexual comments intensified, grew more personal, and even extended to children. MDHR also found that the owner had a pattern of harassing employees, including Lorna’s cousin.

“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,” Lorna said.

Minnesota Sword Club

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.

Settlements Require Structural Changes

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 assault, harassment, and 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.

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.