In a new lawsuit against Panda Express, a former employee claims she was forced to take off her underwear and hug a similarly undressed colleague in front of colleagues and strangers in 2019. The incident allegedly took place during a „self-improvement” seminar that her manager identified as necessary for promotion.
The employee – whose name Eater does not reveal – was serving as a cashier at Panda Express in Santa Clarita, Calif., For nearly three years when she was told about the seminar described as a requirement for career advancement. after the lawsuit. She claimed she paid out of pocket for the four-day program run by Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy company but sponsored by Panda Express. The seminar „quickly turned into psychological abuse,” said the complaint: the participants were allegedly insulted, were not allowed to use their cell phones and were kept isolated in a room without a clock and with doors and windows covered with black cloth , compared to “a website for interrogating terrorist suspects. „
The undressing took place during a bizarre „confidence-building” exercise in which partially clothed participants – who were allegedly „spoiled” by seminar staff – took turns revealing their inner struggles until other participants „believed” them according to the complaint. The complaint continues: “The last male participant had some difficulty persuading the others and burst into tears. The plaintiff was asked to stand up and walk with the male participant to the center of the room, where he was forced to hug him with only his underwear on. „
Later, the staff member claimed, a member of the seminar recorded them while she was still partially undressed during another exercise that required participants to pretend their „negative energy” was being cut out of their bodies.
Shortly after completing the multi-day seminar, which the employee compared to a “cult initiation ritual”, she resigned from Panda Express and referred to the unbearable working conditions and the humiliation she had experienced during the seminar.
„This was called a ‘confidence-building’ exercise, but it was the opposite of confidence-building exercise,” said the employee’s attorney, Oscar Ramirez. he said Washington Post. „Employees had to undergo dehumanizing activities to prove their loyalty to the company.”
Panda Restaurant Group, the parent company of Panda Express, said it takes the allegations „very seriously” and is conducting an investigation. the Orange County Register Reports. The company also denied having „ownership” or „control” over live seminars and denied claims that workers must attend the seminars in order to receive promotions.
However, the 20 to 50 Panda Express employees attending the 2019 Los Angeles seminar were required to provide their employee identification numbers and received workshop materials with the Panda Express logo, Ramirez said Orange County Register. „Alive seminars essentially served as an extension of the Panda Express HR department,” the lawsuit said.
Lively seminars told this Orange County Register in a statement that his trainings are presented with respect and dignity.
The lawsuit, filed against both the fast food chain and Alive Seminars, seeks unspecified harm to sexual battery, hostile work environment, failure to prevent harassment, constructive dismissal in violation of public order and the deliberate infliction of emotional stress. Ramirez told this Washington Post that other Panda Express employees who had to pay out of pocket for the seminar have plans to file a class action lawsuit.