The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has reached a settlement with the company that runs the Minnesota Renaissance Festival after finding probable cause that a freelance photographer was raped by the festival's artistic director in 2017.
The department's investigation found that Shakopee-based Mid-America Festivals Corp. violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act when it failed to provide a safe work environment free from sexual assault and harassment. The settlement requires Mid-America to establish and carry out anti-harassment policies and ensure that staffers are trained to identify and address sexual harassment and assault.
Mid-America also must ensure there are multiple ways for employees to report harassment or assault. The Human Rights Department will monitor the company to ensure compliance.
"It's 2021 and I think there's this idea that the MeToo movement happened and it's done," Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said Tuesday. "This really is a problem that's endemic in our society and our culture."
The artistic director, Carr Hagerman, is no longer employed by Mid-America. His attorney, Piper Kenney Wold of Minneapolis, said the allegations are untrue.
Kenney Wold said she doesn't give much credibility to the state's investigation or probable-cause finding. "I know how little investigative work they must have done on it. … It was disappointing," she said. "He hasn't had his day in court."
Taylor Putz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Department, said the department's investigation was thorough, pointing to its 10-page memorandum summarizing the results.
Hagerman, 62, managed hundreds of entertainers at the popular Renaissance Festival and performed there himself for nearly 40 years. He was best known as the Rat Catcher, a character in 17th-century apparel who taunted festival visitors.
Hagerman was charged with two counts of first-degree sexual assault and scheduled to go to trial in October. But the Scott County Attorney's Office dismissed the charges because his accuser — who has chosen to remain anonymous — was unable to travel to Minnesota to testify because of COVID-19 concerns, and the judge declined to hold the trial virtually.
The settlement applies to all Mid-America operations in Minnesota, including the Trail of Terror, a Shakopee-based Halloween event. In a statement Tuesday, Stephanie Whipps, a spokeswoman for Mid-America, said the company doesn't admit liability for the claims related to the sexual assault allegations but was working with the state to ensure it is following discrimination and harassment laws.
Mid-America, she said, doesn't "have all of the information necessary to assess wrongdoing" and neither does the state because Human Rights Department investigators never talked with the accused and the "complainant refused to participate in the Festival's investigation."
She said festival officials learned of the allegation months after it was made and immediately investigated. Once they learned of the allegation, they did not let Hagerman return.
Festival officials have enhanced employee training since 2017 to prevent harassment and ensure a quick response if it happens.
They also now require background checks of all workers.
The Renaissance Festival did have a sexual harassment policy, but it was not enforced, Lucero said. The festival, which marks its 50th anniversary this year, will open Aug. 21 and run weekends through Oct. 3.
"You can't just have policies in place," Lucero said. "You have to enforce those policies."
The department also shared settlement details from sexual harassment and assault complaints against two other Minnesota businesses: Red Cabin Custard, a restaurant in Ely, Minn., and the Minnesota Sword Club in Minneapolis. Lucero said the department grouped the three together in the same news release to demonstrate that sexual harassment is a larger problem.
According to the Renaissance Festival contract photographer, Hagerman threatened to kill her family and ruin her life during the rape episode, the department memo said. It said Hagerman called her a "piece of meat" and forced her to eat the pink ribbon she had been wearing around her waist. She vomited during the attack, the memo said.
Hagerman had hired the woman and had significant power at the festival, the department found, and had performers engage in sexual acts instead of paying rent. The rape was not an isolated event, according to the department.
Such civil matters and settlements often are private, said John Klassen, who along with attorney Andrew Muller represents the accuser. But he said parts of this settlement are public because a state agency is involved.
Klassen said he couldn't comment on settlement terms between the state and Mid-America. Lucero said the accuser and Mid-America had reached a separate confidential settlement agreement.
The lesson to be taken from the settlement, at least in the eyes of his client, Klassen said, is that victims "can find a voice. You're not alone and justice can be served."
Kenney Wold said she "doesn't anticipate" a refiling of the criminal case, and Klassen said it wasn't clear what the Scott County Attorney's Office might do with potential criminal charges.
Lucero said she hopes the settlement will encourage companies to take a fresh look at their sexual harassment policies. "I really hope that this is an opportunity to do better," she said.
Erin Adler • 612-673-1781