A 23-year-old employee of fast-food chain named Panda Express in California has alleged that she was forced to trip down to her underwear in front of her fellow staff and was asked to talk to the group about her vulnerabilities during a “self-improvement” training seminar in 2019 sponsored by the company.
Not just this, she alleged that she was also asked by session’s leader to “hug it out” with a partially undressed co-worker after he broke down while trying to do the same. Recalling the bizarre and psychologically abusive incident, she said that others present in the session filmed her or stared at her body.
“This was called a ‘trust-building’ exercise, but it was opposite of building trust. It required employees to subject themselves to dehumanizing activities on order to prove their loyalty to the company,” The Washington Post quoted her lawyer Oscar Ramirez as saying.
Reacting to the allegations, a spokesperson for Panda Restaurant Group said in a statement to The Washington Post that it takes matter “very seriously” and is probing it. “We do not condone the kind of behavior described in the lawsuit, and it is deeply concerning to us. We are committed to providing a safe environment for all associates and stand behind our core values to treat each person with respect,” the statement said.
The woman, whose name cannot be revealed, worked for less than three years at a Panda Express location in Santa Clarita in California, where she got to know about the training session run by Alive Seminars, the lawsuit said. The woman also claimed that she was told by her manager that she would only be considered for a promotion in the company if she joins the four-day seminar, as reported by The Washington Post.
However, the company has denied of having any association with Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy, which conducted the seminars in 2019. “Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy is a third-party organisation in which Panda has no ownership interest and over which it exercises no control,” reads a statement from the company. “While we always encourage personal growth and development, Panda Restaurant Group has not and does not mandate that any associate participate in Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy nor is it a requirement to earn promotions,” it added.
The victim used to attend seminar in her own free time and had borrowed hundreds of dollars from relatives to pay for the training, Ramirez told The Washington Post.