A former employee of a Panda Express in Santa Clarita alleges she was required to strip down to her underwear and hug a partially clad co-worker during a “cult-like ritual” at a 2019 training seminar sponsored by the company as a prerequisite to promotion.
The 23-year-old woman is suing Panda Restaurant Group, headquartered in Rosemead, and Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy in Pico Rivera for sexual battery, a hostile work environment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
She is seeking unspecified damages in the lawsuit filed last month in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Although the woman is named in court documents, the Southern California News Group does not identify suspected victims of sexual assault.
The complaint alleges the seminar was bizarre and quickly devolved into psychological abuse.
At the start, attendees were told to sit down and not talk, and were left in isolation for a full hour before a man stormed in, yelling in Spanish and berating them for sitting there and doing nothing, when that is exactly what they had been instructed to do, says the complaint.
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.
“Plaintiff — stripped in front of strangers and co-workers — was extremely uncomfortable but pressed on because she knew it was her only chance at a promotion,” says the lawsuit.
Panda Express workers forced to strip in ‘cult-like’ team-building seminar, lawsuit alleges https://t.co/cYbyGaX5BE— Pasadena Star News (@PasStarNews) March 9, 2021
The victim went to the seminar hopeful and optimistic about her future with Panda Express but left three days later “scarred and downtrodden.” Soon after, she quit her job because of emotional distress.
Officials with Panda Restaurant Group said the company takes the woman’s allegations seriously and has conducted an investigation.
Officials with Alive Seminars did not return emails and phone calls seeking comment. Its website says the company is committed to human development and improvement of self-esteem, values and leadership.
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