SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) — The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued right-to-sue letters to two former employees of the Palmer Candy Company in Sioux City, according to a lawsuit in federal court.

According to the lawsuit filings, Ryan Barnes and Breanna Hughes have filed a lawsuit against the Sioux City-based company claiming discrimination in the workplace. The lawsuit was originally filed in Woodbury County in August but was moved to federal court in late September.

The documents outlined the series of events that led up to the end of their employment, those events were described as follows. 

Barnes and Hughes started working at Palmer Candy in July 2021. The documents state that they each endured harassment by co-workers on their second day of work, and their supervisors allegedly told them that those workers were “just like that to certain people.”  

According to the answer filed by Palmer Candy Company, it has denied the allegations of harassment and supervisors’ statements.  

Barnes’ supervisor allegedly told him that they would report the harassment to higher management, but they did not follow through, according to the documents. Palmer Candy denied these allegations in their answer documents.  

Palmer Candy was allegedly aware of the racial harassment taking place during working hours, but they did not take any measures to stop it, according to the documents. Palmer Candy also denied these allegations.  

On the third day of Barnes and Hughes’s employment Barnes was allegedly assigned more work than what was originally established. Then, when he was walking away from lunch, a co-worker allegedly said a racial slur in Spanish. The documents specified that Barnes reported the incident. According to the answer by Palmer Candy Company, there was not enough knowledge to admit or deny these allegations. 

The following day, a meeting was held in response to the racial harassment that had been reported. According to the documents, during the meeting, several co-workers allegedly whispered amongst each other and laughed along with members of the management team. Palmer Candy’s answer indicated that the meeting was held but denied the allegations of the actions of co-workers and the management team.  

The documents specified that Barnes and Hughes had indicated they felt more targeted once the meeting had concluded. 

The documents further state that Barnes’s wage was allegedly cut on his fifth day of employment, and he was allegedly reprimanded for not asking for help with the extra work that had been allegedly assigned to him.

Palmer Candy Company denied these allegations. Additionally, Palmer Candy stated the reduced wages resulted from a seniority system, a merit system, a system measuring earnings by quantity or quality of product, or a pay differential. The answer specifies that the reason for the reduction was based on “any factor other than race or national origin.”  

Additionally, the documents stated that Hughes’s work allegedly was “unreasonably scrutinized.” Under the circumstances, according to the documents, Barnes and Hughes “reasonably” concluded that there was no chance of fair treatment due to the lack of enforcement considering racial harassment reports. Palmer Candy Company also denied these allegations, according to the answer documents filed. 

The filing documents described the effects of the alleged treatment that Barnes and Hughes received as “offensive, severe, and pervasive,” and a condition of their continued employment.  

Barnes and Hughes state in the suit that they filed charges of discrimination against Palmer Candy Company with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Hughes filed on December 24, 2021, and Barns on February 25, 2022. The EEOC then issued right-to-sue letters to Barnes and Hughes who then filed the lawsuit.

The suit states Barnes and Hughes requested a trial by jury, and they are looking at damages including lost wages, lost economic benefits, emotional distress, back pay, front pay, court costs, and reasonable attorneys’ fees.  

Palmer Candy Company filed saying they deny Barnes and Hughes’ entitlement to any damages “whatsoever,” and that any actual sustained damage was caused by the actions of themselves or others but not by Palmer Candy Company.  

Additionally, Palmer Candy Company’s answer to the suit states Barnes and Hughes are barred from damage claims by the applicable statute of limitations periods. They also stated in the legal filing that the company complied with policies, programs, and procedures for the prevention and detection of unlawful harassment and retaliatory practices according to the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

The answer documents state that Palmer Candy Company is requesting the court to dismiss the complaint and enter judgment in its favor.  

KCAU 9 reached out to Barnes and Hughes’ legal representatives as well as Palmer Candy Company and their legal team for a statement but did not receive any communication back.