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An ex-employee of a California Panda Express is suing the company for being pushed to strip down to her underwear in front of others during a training seminar.
NBC News reports that Jennifer Spargifiore says the 2019 incident was part of a “trust-building” activity that was hosted by Panda Express and the self-improvement consulting company, Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy. Her manager allegedly told her that the seminar was required to be considered for a promotion.
Court documents show that the 23-year-old worked at the Santa Clarita Panda Express from August 2016 to July 2019. The lawsuit says the sessions were “bizarre and quickly devolved into psychological abuse.” The incident in question happened on July 13, 2019, where Spargifiore participated in an “‘exercise’ wherein she was forced to strip down to her underwear under the guise of ‘trust-building,’” according to the lawsuit.
She “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,” the lawsuit continued. “Meanwhile, Alive Seminars staff were openly ogling the women in their state of undress, smiling, and laughing.”
Spargifiore and a man, who was also in his underwear, were then allegedly made to “hug it out” in front of everyone. “The seminar more and more resembled a cult initiation ritual as time went on,” the lawsuit said. Spargifiore is seeking unspecified damages for sexual battery, infliction of emotional stress, and more.
The fast-food eatery’s parent company, Panda Restaurant Group, said it has launched its own investigation into her allegations. “We do not condone the kind of behavior described in the lawsuit, and it is deeply concerning to us,” a statement said. “We are committed to providing a safe environment for all associates and stand behind our core values to treat each person with respect.”