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Ashland restaurant to pay $400K for sexual harassment

The owners of Ashland's Burger King will pay more than $400,000 in damages and fines for allowing the store manager to sexually harass two employees starting in 2017.

Chelsea Shubat of Ashland and Allison Shubat of Saxon were hired at the store in early 2017 and said manager Jesse Walitshek began harassing them shortly after they started working there, according to court records.

Walitshek, reached by phone at the restaurant Wednesday, declined to comment for this story. The restaurant's owner, Cave Enterprises of Chicago and its president Adam Velarde, never offered any defense in court, didn't appear for hearings and could not be reached for comment.

"We did make efforts to contact the company and never had any success there," said Ashland attorney Max Lindsey, who represents the Shubats. "Chelsea and Allison haven't actually gotten any money yet. Collection actions are ongoing."

Lindsey declined to comment on how the harassment affected the Shubats, but said he was proud of them for reporting the behavior.

"This is definitely egregious conduct, beyond the normal course of harassment that normally comes up — which isn't to say any harassment should be considered normal," he said. "It shouldn't be tolerated in any workplace and I'm glad we got the spotlight on it. It shouldn't be tolerated in northern Wisconsin or anywhere for that matter."

According to records filed in federal court:

Walitshek began with sexual comments and advances and progressed to harassment that involved sending Chelsea nude photos of himself, video of him having sex with another woman and threats to keep quiet about his behavior.

"Throughout the course of harassment, Walitshek would also make repeated references to the fact that, despite his sexual comments and actions, he was still their boss. Walitshek also made clear that he expected both Chelsea and Allison to play along with his sexual

comments and actions. When they did so, Chelsea and Allison would be treated favorably and often allowed to get off of their shifts early. When they refused to do so, Chelsea and Allison were scheduled for less-favorable shifts and were required to work late."

The Shubats have histories of drug abuse and were participating in Ashland County's Drug Court program, which monitors clients and encourages them to find work and pursue treatment for drug addiction, when they were hired.

"Walitshek likely understood both their psychological vulnerability and the difficulties they would face in attempting to obtain another job as a convicted felon," court records said.

In December of 2017, Allison Shubat began to refuse Walitshek's sexual advances and she was fired shortly afterward.

In May of 2018, she reapplied for work at Burger King and Walitshek and another manager told her she would be rehired. But four days later, Chelsea Shubat spoke with the woman who was depicted in the videos of Walitshek having sex, and Chelsea told the woman that Walitshek had shown the Shubats the videos. The same day, Walitshek confronted Chelsea and said, "You're (expletive) with my life now. You're done. Leave me and my store alone."

Chelsea then contacted Chad Hebert, the company's regional and human-resources manager, and told him about the harassment.

"However, Hebert asked no follow up questions of Chelsea during that call and she never heard back from Hebert."

When Walitshek learned that Chelsea had contacted Hebert, he told Allison, "I don't want you and your (expletive) sister in my (expletive) store after all the (expletive) you have started."

Both Shubats were fired and never rehired.

The EEOC determined that Walitshek and Burger King were guilty of sexual harassment, allowing a hostile workplace environment, retaliating against the Shubats for reporting the harassment and wrongfully terminating them. Hebert also refused to release the Shubats' employment records to the EEOC as required by law.

"(T)he harassment was so pervasive and open that a reasonable employer would have had to have been aware of it. Nevertheless, Hebert failed to adequately investigate plaintiffs' claims of discrimination, and defendant did not exercise reasonable care to prevent harassment in the workplace

on the basis of sex, nor did it exercise reasonable care to correct promptly the harassing

behavior that did occur. As a result of defendant's unlawful action and inaction, plaintiffs have sustained, and will continue to sustain, economic and emotional injuries, including loss of wages and psychological abuse," the EEOC found.

The court awarded Chelsea Shubat $43,000 in lost wages and Allison Shubat $47,000 in lost wages. Chelsea Shubat also will receive $70,000 for emotional pain and suffering, for which Allison Shubat will receive $30,000. The court also ordered Burger King to pay about $200,000 in punitive damages, to pay fines, still not tabulated, for failing to provide work records to the EEOC, and to pay the Shubats' attorney fees.

Corn mazes, pumpkin patches are pre-Halloween treats
Towns schedule trunk-or-treats, trick-or-treats

October may be best known for its haunted Halloween candy-filled finale, but there's still plenty to do in the cornfields and pumpkin patches before the tricks and the treats hit the streets.

Kids of all ages seem to love losing themselves in a maze of corn, and at least three farms in Bayfield and Ashland counties cater to this fall favorite.

Ken Johnson in Oulu and White River Ag Products in Mason have long-standing traditions of opening amazing cornrow labyrinths to visitors, but last year two fresh faces opened yet another — plus a u-pick pumpkin patch — to add to the fun.

When Collin and Staci Drovdahl moved to a farm in the Highbridge area two years ago, they were stunned at the paucity of mazes and pumpkin patches in the Northwoods compared to the state of Washington, their former home.

The newcomers, still in their early 30s, decided to open their farm to visitors to pick pumpkins and navigate a cornfield maze — plus take a hayride, cavort with farm animals and play carnival-type games.

A stay-at-home mom of seven kids, the oldest of whom is 11, Staci Drovdahl said her children — particularly her 9-and 7-year-olds — planted most of the pumpkins on a half-acre patch.

But her husband designed and cut the four-acre maze they open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays during October — weather and pumpkin conditions permitting.

Northern Bounty Farm, 38239 Bass Lake Road, lets 2-year-olds and younger in for free, but charges $5 for 3-to 6-year-olds and $7 for everyone 7 and older for admission.

The patch is set to be open today from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Friday it may be open from 3 to 6 p.m. and again from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Oct. 26, but that weekend may be canceled if the pumpkins are no longer pick-worthy. Call 715-681-0022 for more information.

Oulu's corn maze — famous for not giving its guests a navigational clue by way of an aerial photo of the design — is open today, Sunday, Oct. 26 and Oct. 27 from noon to 6 p.m. at 2595 Pudas Road. Entry is $8 for adults and $7 for kids 11 and younger. As an added treat, the maze is open from 6 to 9 p.m. for a spook-filled night-time visit on Oct. 26; cost is $10.

The corn maze at White River Ag, 58330 Nelson Road, is open from 11 a.m. to dark every Saturday and Sunday until Oct. 27. Additional activities include a corn pit, bouncy house, hay pyramid, food and games.

The farm also lets visitors pick their own pumpkins. Cost of admission is free for kids 3 years old and younger. Four-to 10-year-olds enter for $6, and everyone 11 and older pay $10. The farm offers discounts for large groups. For more information call 715-765-4591.

Trick-or-treat finale

After the corn mazes close, the month will bow out with its signature holiday — Halloween — and trick-or-treating.

Marengo and Red Cliff have spooktacularly planned trunk-or-treating, in which cars congregate in a parking lot and kids wander from vehicle to vehicle for their candy fixes.

Marengo's trunk-or-treat event typically draws about 400 children, and senior citizens hand out candy from their trunks to "everybody from birth to 100 years old," Kathy Schutte said.

To donate candy to this community event, which runs from 4 to 6 p.m. Oct. 31 at Marengo Mural Park in the Jack's Store parking lot, contact Schutte at 715-278-3702.

Red Cliff's trunk-or-treat, including a car-decorating contest, food and drinks, is set for 4 to 7 p.m. Oct. 30 in the elderly parking lot.

But many parents and children still enjoy a good old-fashioned jaunt from door to door for their sweets.

Washburn has set its trick-or-treating hours for 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 30. Ashland and Bayfield set aside Oct. 31 for the costumed kiddies in search of candy but have no Halloween hours scheduled. Iron River set its trick-or-treating hours from 5 to 7 p.m. on Oct. 31.

Ashland says farewell to local Guard troops
Local unit headed to Mideast for a year

The departure of the Ashland National Guard unit on what could be a year-long deployment to the Middle East was a poignant time for the family members of the citizen-soldiers, but perhaps none more so that for Susan Hitchcock of Mason.

She is sending not one son, but three.

Jonathon, Dan and Steven Hitchcock are all members of the unit, and all three will be part of the deployment.

Jonathon Hitchcock is a staff sergeant and a squad leader, and he got a hug and a kiss from his proud mother as he carried his gear into the armory.

"It's pretty tough," said Susan, blinking back a tear.

She said she would miss talking to her sons most of all.

"I guess I will be able to talk to them some, but seeing them, and getting a hug and being at family gatherings will be hard. They are going to miss Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, all the family things."

Once the soldiers loaded their requisite two duffle bags and backpacks and filled up on coffee and doughnuts provided the Chequamegon United Veterans, they boarded a pair of government buses and set off for Spooner with an escort down Main Street where knots of people gathered to wave and cheer as their friends and neighbors set off for an uncertain future.

Each of the soldiers and their families had stories to tell about what is to come:

Becoming a leader

This is not Staff Sgt. Jonathon Hitchcock's first deployment, but he's leaving this time with an additional burden.

"The first time I went I was just a little private, now I'm a squad leader, so it will be interesting having people working under me," he said.

Hitchcock's first deployment, to Afghanistan in 2014, occurred just after he turned 20. He never saw combat during that deployment — his unit was responsible for

disassembling military encampments — but he returned a changed young man.

"I really grew up a lot from the experience," he said.

He will draw on that experience now, when he will have responsibility for a squad of young soldiers who will depend upon him to guide them, perhaps in a hostile land.

"Luckily I've learned from some good leaders, and I've learned from some pretty bad ones too, so I know what I like and what I don't like, and hopefully I'll be able to be a good example."

Hitchcock said putting his life on hold, not being able to see his family and putting his college studies aside were all going to be difficult.

"But I've got a plan for when I return and I'll be able to hit the ground running," he said.

Northwoods rookies

This will be the first overseas deployment for a trio of soldiers from across the Northwoods. Pvt. Chris Neimes, 33, is from Washburn; while Spc. Austin Schultz, 18, lives in Shell Lake; and Pvt. Tyler Koch, 19, is from Butternut. They sat on a picnic bench Thursday, waiting for the bus to load up while idly chatting about what awaited them.

Austin is leaving a fiance behind. He said the idea of separating for up to a year was "a little rough" but the two already had plans for getting their lives back on track, including "buying a house, living life and being happy."

He knows that that's no guarantee — that the part of the world they re headed for has more than its share of dangers.

"You've just got to keep your eyes open, head down and just be diligent, looking around all the time. It's your safety and you have to look after yourself," he said.

"It's definitely going to be a once in a lifetime experience," said Koch.

He agreed that it was difficult to say goodbye to loved ones.

"But this is what I signed up for," he said.

Headed for adventure

Ashland resident Spc. Tyan Geisler, 19 studied geology at the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire until her guard unit was called up. Now she will be working in supply, ensuring her fellow soldiers have all the equipment they need to do their jobs. Although she, too, has put her civilian life on hold — she looks forward to returning to UW-Eau Claire after the deployment — she was delighted to learn she was being sent overseas.

"I volunteered for this. I wanted this to happen," Geisler said.

The deployment represents the longest she has been away from home in her life — a reality that hadn't entirely sunk in as she waited Thursday to board a bus.

"We don't have our leaving ceremony for a couple of days yet, and it will become real then. I'll probably be pretty emotional but right now I'm feeling pretty good," she said.

Though she views the deployment as a grand adventure, she does have some worries — such as how the women of the unit will be treated in the Middle East.

"It's very different over there; women aren't in a place of power over there, so that concerns me a little," she said. "Even talking to the locals over there — I don't know how I am supposed to talk to them, or if I even can. But I think a couple of months there, watching, learning, it will be fine."

On the job

Squad Leader Staff Sgt. Brett Lazich views his assignment as just "another day in the park."

"This is my third deployment; the last one I was acting as a squad leader, and was acting above my rank, so it's nice to be doing that at the proper grade, and I'm pretty comfortable in my position," he said.

One of the things he has to deal with is teaching the mostly green troops in his squad how to handle the inevitable family issues that crop up with a deployment.

"They are a little nervous about that, but they know this is their mission," he said.

Lazich said one advantage of this assignment is that the unit will be doing tasks they were trained to accomplish, and not tasks that have been assigned to them out of necessity.

"The last deployment we did de-militarization, where we tore down bases around Afghanistan. The deployment before that was with the 32nd Brigade on the big tour in 2008-09 and '10," he said. "That one was detainee operations where we were essentially prison guards. This one will be the first one in a long time where we will be taking our tool kits and doing our mission."

A sweet goodbye

As the Guard members awaited their transport to Spooner Thursday and then on to a training camp in Texas, the soldiers still didn't know their ultimate destination. It could be war-torn Afghanistan again, or a relatively safe place such as Kuwait.

Whetever their destination, the Chequamegon United Veterans wanted their last memory of home to be a sweet one. They served the departing soldiers coffee and donuts before the parade down Main Street.

"We are here to support our guard members and have some camaraderie," said American Legion member Frank Kostka. "We want to tell them we've been there, we've done it and we support you. We've got your back and we will be there when you come back home, too."

Kostka said the deployment represented the fulfillment of the commitment made by the Guard members when they enlisted.

"It's heartwarming to see citizens who are willing to raise their hands and defend the country," he said.

(Copyright © 2019 APG Media)