A former employee of a Panda Express branch in Southern California’s Santa Clarita Valley has claimed in a lawsuit that she was pressured to strip down to her underwear in front of a crowd during a “trust-building” exercise for the company.
Cult-like rituals: Plaintiff Jennifer Spargifiore, 23, was allegedly subjected to “cult-like rituals” during an off-site seminar in July 2019.
- Spargifiore’s lawsuit, which was filed last month, named both Panda Express and Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy — the consulting company that led the exercise — as defendants.
- The lawsuit states that Spargifiore was a victim of sexual battery, a hostile work environment and infliction of emotional distress.
- An amount for damages was not specified.
Prerequisite to promotion: Spargifiore, who worked primarily for Panda Express Santa Clarita from Aug. 10, 2016, to July 15, 2019, explained that the seminars by Alive Seminars were often “a prerequisite to promotion.”
- On July 13, 2019, Spargifiore was allegedly pressured into an “exercise” in which she was forced to strip down to her underwear under the guise of “trust-building.”
- Spargifiore reportedly “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.”
- During the incident, someone filmed her using a cell phone while “Alive Seminars staff were openly ogling the women in their state of undress, smiling, and laughing.”
- Spargifiore and a male employee, who also stripped down to his underwear, were forced to “hug it out” in front of their colleagues.
- Spargifiore’s lawsuit states that she left the seminar early and “was constructively terminated from her position with Panda Express in July 2019.”
Panda responds: In a statement on Wednesday, Panda Restaurant Group, the California-based parent company of Panda Express, said that it is conducting its own investigation about the allegations, according to NBC.
- “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.”
- Distancing itself from co-defendant Alive Seminars, Panda Restaurant Group referred to it as a “third-party organization in which Panda has no ownership interest and over which it exercises no control.”
- Alive Seminars said in an emailed statement to the OC Register that its “training sessions are presented with respect and dignity.”