According to the plaintiff, Michele St. Michael, the umbrella company of the Colorado Renaissance Festival, Rocky Mountain Festivals, thinks it can still treat women like it’s the 15th century. She is suing for workplace discrimination and sexual harassment.
St. Michael worked at the fair for over 30 years, but her contract was not renewed in 2016. She believes her job was terminated because she reported an attempted sexual assault in 2013.
The incident allegedly occurred one night when St. Michael attempted to leave the festival. One of the festival managers, David Walker, took her festival pass from her and demanded oral sex.
She fled and reported the harassment to the festival’s owner, James Paradise Sr. Paradise did not do anything, and Walker allegedly began smearing St. Michael’s reputation and trying to get her removed. After the 2015 season, she was not invited to return.
The festival does not have a sexual harassment policy or any equivalent to an HR department to handle complaints. Workers at the festival are technically independent contractors, which complicates the issue. Under the law, places that hire independent contractors are not technically employers.
However, St. Michael is arguing Paradise’s stringent “Rules of the Realm” that govern the Colorado Renaissance Festival employees and dictate what they can wear, how they can interact with customers and what hours they have to be there are involved enough to classify the festival as an employer.
This debate over whether anti-workplace discrimination laws apply to independent contractors is poised to be solved in many states beginning in New York. There, a bill Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he will sign proposes an expansion of protections to non-employees working for a company.
Related Story: New York State Expands Workplace Harassment Laws
Paradise claims he never heard about the incident and terminated St. Michael because she was not a good worker. He also said St. Michael took too long to complain, another excuse that would not be acceptable under the proposed New York law. Paradise’s attorney argued the strict “Rules of the Realm” are necessary to make the festival as authentic as possible.
Perhaps the authenticity went too far when St. Michael also took on the antiquated status of a second-class citizen.
Renaissance fairs are a notorious place for sexual misconduct, especially as workers across the country are using social media to come forward about assault and harassment they faced — some of them as young teens.
One former worker at the Kansas City fair began her job as a performer at age 15. Men working at the festival groomed her until one man pushed her into a room, violently kissed her and tried to take her clothes off.
Though Renaissance fairs can be an entertaining way for history and fantasy enthusiasts to go back in time, women of the 21st century are demanding discrimination and harassment not be swept under the rug anymore.