A former Panda Express employee has filed a lawsuit alleging she was forced by higher-ups to strip down to her underwear in front of both colleagues and complete strangers during what was supposed to be a “trust-building” exercise
According to NBC News, Jennifer Spargifiore worked at the Santa Clarita Panda Express from August 2016 till July 2019 when she was enlisted to take part in a “trust-building” activity. It was hosted by Panda Express in partnership with self-improvement consulting company, Alive Seminars, and Coaching Academy.
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According to the civil complaint, the 23-year-old was informed by her manager that the Alive seminars were often “a prerequisite to promotion,” and attendees were even required to provide their work ID numbers so seminar fees “could be debited directly from their Panda Express employee accounts.”
The lawsuit goes on to explain that the day long sessions were “bizarre and quickly devolved into psychological abuse.”
The incident in question allegedly took place on July 13, 2019, where Spargifiore participated in an “‘exercise” where she says she was “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.”
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“Meanwhile, Alive Seminars staff were openly ogling the women in their state of undress, smiling, and laughing,” the lawsuit continued, adding that then a man – who was also in his underwear – was then allegedly made to “hug it out” with her in front of the entire group.
“The seminar more and more resembled a cult initiation ritual as time went on,” the lawsuit said, noting that after a distraught Spargifiore decided to leave the seminar early, she “was constructively terminated from her position with Panda Express in July 2019.”
In response to the disturbing allegations, Panda Restaurant Group, which is the Rosemead, California-based parent company of Panda Express, released a statement confirming that they are conducting an internal investigation into the allegations outlined in the lawsuit.
“We do not condone the kind of behavior described in the lawsuit, and it is deeply concerning to us,” read the company statement the was released on Wednesday. “We are committed to providing a safe environment for all associates and stand behind our core values to treat each person with respect.”
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Despite employees allegedly being told that attending Alive seminars was a mandatory part of their employment, the company is publicly distancing itself from the self-improvement firm, calling it a “third-party organization in which Panda has no ownership interest and over which it exercises no control.”
“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,” the company said of their co-defendant in the suit.
Spargifiore is now seeking unspecified damages for sexual battery, infliction of emotional stress, and more.
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