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Women sue Renaissance Festival, alleging hostile work environment

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Two women are suing the organizers of the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, alleging the company fostered a sexually charged, hostile work environment.

The suit fuels questions that arose earlier this summer about the festival's tradition of bawdy entertainment, after its longtime entertainment director was charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct this summer, accused of raping a woman on the festival grounds in 2017.

Carr Hagerman, 60, who had worked for the festival for 40 years, was also known for his role as the "Rat Catcher," a filthy character known for hurling insults at festival patrons. A spokesperson for the Renaissance Festival said he is suspended with pay while the criminal case makes its way through the courts. 

But the charges against Hagerman have inspired two other women to step forward. Attorney John Klassen, who represents the women, said their lawsuit alleges there has been a decades-long breakdown in protections for women at the festival. He said festival management knowingly fostered a sexually hostile environment.   

"The serial nature of the harassing conduct, and the hostile environment, and the everyday acceptance by the people working there ... has to stop," he said.

Klassen said he served Mid-America Festivals, the organization that runs the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, with the lawsuit weeks ago, but has yet to file it in court. Mid-America Festivals confirms it received the suit, but both parties declined to share the document with MPR News and would only speak in broad terms about the allegations it contains. 

"As the lawsuit alleges, Carr Hagerman had an extremely high degree of control over these women's lives and their acting lives," Klassen said. "And that was part of the absolute breakdown and failure that Mid-America engaged in in protecting these women." 

Bo Beller, Mid-America Festivals' director of business and legal affairs, said that, before this year, the company had only received a single complaint about Hagerman's behavior, and investigated the matter. He said the company responds swiftly to any complaints it receives.

"We have policies and procedures in place, and if someone has a concern and it reaches us, we deal with that concern and fix the problem," Beller said. "What is unfortunate and sad, based on what is going on now, is that some people felt that reaching out to management would not be an effective way [to address issues]."

Sheila Engelmeier, an attorney for Mid-America Festivals, said the company is conducting its own internal investigation into the allegations of sexual misconduct.  

"It's horrifying and saddening," she said, "for someone to suggest" that the festival had knowledge of misconduct, but did nothing. 

"We deny that the festival has cultivated a culture of harassment," she added, "but by saying that, I don't want to dissuade a single person" from coming forward, if they have a complaint."

In the meantime, Hagerman's lawyer maintains his client's innocence. He is expected to appear in court later this month.