ELY - Red Cabin Custard, of Ely, and two other Minnesota businesses that failed to provide work environments free from sexual assault and harassment, in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, …
ELY - Red Cabin Custard, of Ely, and two other Minnesota businesses that failed to provide work environments free from sexual assault and harassment, in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, reached settlement agreements this week with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR).
The other two businesses were Mid-America Festivals Corporation that operates the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in Shakopee, and the Minnesota Sword Club in Minneapolis.
MDHR’s investigation found the owner of Red Cabin Custard, Bill Chalmers, used his position of authority to subject Lorna Keller, then 14 years old, to unwanted touching, graphic sexual innuendos, and sexual depictions of genitals in 2015.
Over time, Chalmers' sexual comments intensified, grew more personal, and even extended to children, the investigation determined. The MDHR also found that Chalmers 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,” said Keller, who is now 19 years old. “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,” she added.
Keller’s mother, Bryn Fadum, said the family chose to have the Minnesota Department of Human Rights work on this case, instead of filing criminal charges, because a ruling from the state could protect other workers from similar abuse.
Their initial complaint, filed in 2015, was denied. Fadum said from what they saw, no actual investigation took place. The family quickly appealed the denial, and a second investigation found probable cause immediately.
“The case then sat in limbo for several years,” said Fadum, “until we finally called to see what was going on.”
Fadum said their family was encouraged to hire an attorney, and the family, which had since moved to Alaska, participated in a zoom hearing which included the Minnesota’s assistant attorney general.
“Chalmers is still the owner of Red Cabin Custard,” Fadum said, “but now he has to report to the MDHR, hold trainings for his employees, and go through training himself. There is a lot of documentation involved.”
Chalmers also paid a small cash settlement to Keller, but did not acknowledge wrongdoing.
“He tried to give it to her before as hush money,” Fadum said, “with a non-disclosure agreement.”
The family wanted to make sure that Chalmers would not be harassing employees in the future and did not agree to the pre-settlement offer.
“I think other girls will come forward now,” Fadum said.
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.
“Abuse and misuse of authority to sexually assault, harass, or rape workers violates civil rights law,” said MDHR 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.”
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 assault and harassment.
“Every business has a legal obligation to ensure their workplace is free from sexual assault, harassment, and rape – plain and simple,” Lucero continued. “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.
Those who believe they are the victim of sexual assault, sexual harassment, or any other type of discrimination covered under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, can call the Discrimination Helpline at 1-833-454-0148.
This story was edited to correct the spelling of the Red Cabin Custard owner's name.