A former Panda Express employee has filed a lawsuit again the company. They claim that it urged its employees to complete a training seminar in which she was forced to strip down to just her underwear in clear view of the other people participating and then hug a male participant who has also been forced to strip, all while still in from of others. Panda Express has issued a statement denying its ownership or control of the seminar and stating that it did not mandate attendance.
The suit claims that The employees were led to believe that their participating in the seminar would help their chances at receiving a promotion, the Pasadena Star-News stated, noting that the 23-year-old woman has not only sued Panda Express Group, but also filed against Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy for a hostile work environment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and sexual battery.
The plaintiff stated she first started at Panda Express back in 2016, and in July 2019 a store manager informed her that she would need to join a self-improvement seminar conducted by Alive Seminars. The suit alleges:
“Eager to improve her skills and advance within the company, plaintiff signed up and paid out of pocket to attend a four-day program. Panda Express pushed its employees in the Los Angeles region to complete Alive Seminars training. In many cases, it was a prerequisite to promotion.”
Oscar Ramirez, the plaintiff’s attorney, stated that between 20 and 50 employees attended said seminar in a warehouse, adding that they had to produce their employee identification numbers to receive materials that included the Panda logo. The lawsuit alleges, “Alive Seminars served — in essence — as an extension of Panda Express’ own Human Resources department.”
The lawsuit states that participants were told they should be silent and remain seated while they were isolated for about an hour, after which a man entered the room and berated them for sitting and doing nothing, calling them “nothing” and stating they “don’t matter” while verbally abusing them. “Seminar participants were prohibited from using their cellphones, there was no clock in the room and the doors and windows were all covered with black cloth,” The Star-News reported.
The lawsuit adds: “The atmosphere resembled less a self-improvement seminar than a site for off the-books interrogation of terrorist suspects. The sensory isolation and intimidation was reinforced by constant yelling and verbal abuse by seminar staff, creating an atmosphere of fear in the room. Nevertheless, most attendees, including plaintiff, felt that they had no choice but to remain because they were sent to the seminar by Panda Express and told that their opportunity for promotion would depend on completion of the seminar.”
“When the seminar continued on July 13, 2019, the woman allegedly was forced to strip down to her underwear under the guise of trust building,” The Star-News continued, quoting the lawsuit further: “Plaintiff — stripped almost naked in front of strangers and co-workers — was extremely uncomfortable but pressed on because she knew it was her only chance at a promotion. Meanwhile, Alive Seminars staff were openly ogling the women in their state of undress, smiling, and laughing.”
This was allegedly followed up by instructions to those in attendance to stand up and scream about their inner issues until the other believes them.
“The last male participant had some difficulty ‘convincing’ the others and, as a result, broke down in tears,” the lawsuit alleges. “Plaintiff was told to stand up and go to the middle of the room with the male participant, where they were forced to ‘hug it out,’ wearing nothing but their underwear. Plaintiff was humiliated but did as she was told.”
continuing , the lawsuit claims, “Alive Seminars staff proceeded to dim the lights. Plaintiff and the other attendees were instructed to stand up and close their eyes, pretending that a light from above would come down and take all the ‘negative energy’ out of them, then pretend that a hole opened up in the ground and swallowed the ‘negative energy.’ While this was happening, one of the Alive Seminars staff had a cell phone with the light on, recording plaintiff in her state of undress.”
At this point the plaintiff finally stated she had a family emergency and fled.
Ramirez stated, “We are looking forward to presenting this case to a jury so that a clear message can be sent to Panda Express — which owns and operates over 2,000 restaurants — that it must put to an end to its practice of requiring its employees to undergo horrific psychological abuse and harassment to be promoted.”