A former employee at a California Panda Express is suing the company after allegedly being pushed to strip down to her underwear in front of her co-workers during a training seminar.
According to reports from NBC News, Jennifer Spargifiore claims the 2019 incident was part of a “trust-building” activity, which was hosted by Panda Express and the self-improvement consulting company, Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy. She went on to say that her manager told her the seminar was required to be considered for a promotion within the company.
The 23-year-old worked at the Santa Clarita Panda Express from August 2016 to July 2019, with the lawsuit saying the sessions were “bizarre and quickly devolved into psychological abuse.” The aforementioned stripping incident 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.
Jennifer “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.”
And unfortunately, things got even worse. Spargifiore and a man–who was also in his underwear–were then allegedly forced 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.
In response to these allegations, Panda Express’ parent company, Panda Restaurant Group, said it has launched its own investigation.
“We do not condone the kind of behavior described in the lawsuit, and it is deeply concerning to us,” they said in a statement. “We are committed to providing a safe environment for all associates and stand behind our core values to treat each person with respect.”