A former Panda Express employee claimed in a lawsuit Wednesday that the restaurant chain pressured her to attend a seminar where she was “forced to strip down to her underwear” in front of strangers and coworkers.
Jennifer Spargifiore started working at the eatery in Santa Clarita, California, in August 2016 and said she was told to attend Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy’s self-improvement programs if she wanted to be promoted, Fox Business reported.
The lawsuit complaint accuses Panda Express and Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy of sexual battery, a hostile work environment, failure to prevent harassment, constructive discharge in violation of public policy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Spargifiore said she signed up for the seminar in July 2019 but it quickly became a terrifying experience.
“The attendees were prohibited from using their cell phones; there was no clock in the room; the doors and windows were all covered with black cloth,” the lawsuit alleges.
“The atmosphere resembled less a self-improvement seminar than a site for off-the-books interrogation of terrorist suspects,” it continued.
The document said the event grew into something resembling a “cult initiation ritual,” but the woman and other workers stayed because they were told, “their opportunity for promotion would depend on completion of the seminar.”
At one point, Spargifiore was allegedly instructed to strip down to her underwear, then “hug it out” in the middle of a room with her coworkers, the lawsuit stated.
According to Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy’s website, the seminars “focus on employee engagement and leadership development among all participants. They are experiential, interactive provocative and fun.”
The eatery’s parent company, Panda Restaurant Group, said it is investigating the allegations.
“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,” a spokesperson told Fox Business.
“Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy is a third-party organization in which Panda has no ownership interest and over which it exercises no control,” the spokesperson concluded.
The case is Spargifiore v. Panda Restaurant Group, No. 21st-cv-07909 in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County.