The Shocking Reason One Panda Express Employee Is Suing The Company

Team building is definitely a thing for many companies around the world, but Panda Express appears to have gone a step too far, at least according to a lawsuit filed by a former employee at the Los Angeles County Superior court. The employee was made to take part in a four-day seminar which was described as resembling a "cult initiating ritual" in court filings. At one stage, the employee was forced to strip to her underwear in front of staff, and asked to talk to her group about her "vulnerabilities" (via The Orange County Register).

It didn't stop there. The woman alleges that she was asked to stand in front of a male colleague, who also had to strip down to his underwear to "hug it out." The Washington Post, which also reported on the lawsuit, says the male colleague had broken down when he was also asked to undress. The activity was positioned as a "trust-building exercise" and part of the seminar organized by Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy. Alive Seminars staff were reportedly staring at the women while the exercise was being carried out.

The seminars were purportedly a key consideration for promotion if a Panda Express employee wanted to move up the ladder. So the plaintiff used up free time and borrowed money from relatives in order to take part in the activity. The Orange County Register says she eventually left the seminar early, and quit her job not long after that.

The controversial seminar was positioned as necessary for promotion

Oscar Ramirez is representing the plaintiff in the case which is suing Panda Express for damages involving "sexual battery, a hostile work environment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress" (via The Orange County Register). He told the Post that "This was called a 'trust-building' exercise, but it was opposite of building trust. It required employees to subject themselves to dehumanizing activities in order to prove their loyalty to the company."

Panda Express has told the Register that they had nothing to do with the seminars: "While we [the restaurant chain] 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." Still, those who attended the seminar were asked to give their identification numbers in exchange for materials with the Panda Express logo.

The Post points out that the lawsuit only highlights what it describes as an "unusual management style" exhibited by Panda and its co-founder Andrew Cherng. We will likely see more details emerge as the lawsuit pushes ahead. 

If you, or anyone you know, have been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).