SHAKOPEE, Minn. -- The state Department of Human Rights has reached a settlement with the company that operates the Minnesota Renaissance Festival over an alleged workplace sexual assault.
The department says Mid-America Festivals Corporation violated state civil rights law by failing to provide a safe work environment free from sexual assault and harassment.
An investigation found probable cause that the festival's artistic director raped a freelance photographer on the festival grounds in Shakopee in 2017. It also determined that the festival had an ineffective sexual harassment policy that the artistic director repeatedly violated.
“It's simply not enough to have a policy that's in place,” said Rebecca Lucero, Minnesota’s human rights commissioner. “You need to actually effectuate that policy through cultural change and accountability.”
The investigation found a highly sexualized atmosphere existed at the Renaissance Festival, with the artistic director expecting performers to engage in sexual acts in lieu of paying rent.
Scott County prosecutors filed criminal sexual misconduct charges against the festival’s former artistic director, Carr Hagerman, in 2018. However, those charges were later dropped after the alleged victim, citing personal challenges, said it would be too difficult to travel to court to testify.
A message left for Hagerman’s attorney, Piper Kenney Wold, was not immediately returned.
The settlement applies to all Mid-America Festivals operations in Minnesota, including the Trail of Terror in Shakopee. Mid-America does not admit any wrongdoing or liability in the case.
In a statement, the company said it disagrees with the human rights department’s factual conclusions, in part because the department did not talk with the accused employee.
However, the company said it agrees that a sexual assault allegation is a very serious matter, and is committed to a “positive, safe and welcoming work environment.” Since 2017, the festival has expanded training and encouraged anyone on festival grounds to report inappropriate activity.
All employees will be required to undergo a background check before working at the festival for the upcoming season, the statement said.
Under the settlement, the company agreed to pay $10,000 to the state, as well as to implement anti-harassment policies, train employees and provide multiple ways to report harassment.
“That's what we want to do to make sure that there are strong structures and accountability mechanisms to prevent this from happening again,” Lucero said, “and to make sure that there isn't systemic failure across the board when it comes to an employer's obligation to keep their workers safe.”
The case was one of three sexual harassment settlements the department announced this week. The other two involved Red Cabin Custard in Ely and the Minnesota Sword Club in Minneapolis. In both of those cases, the owner was the one who sexually harassed employees, Lucero said.
The human rights commissioner said the three cases involved businesses of different size, type and location, and show how widespread and pervasive the problem of sexual harassment is.
“This isn't about one person doing something wrong,” she said. “This is about the real structures and systems that are in place that are allowing this to occur.”
One in four workplace discrimination cases filed with the state Department of Human Rights involve sex discrimination, including sexual assault and harassment, she said.