A former Los Angeles-area Panda Express restaurant worker claims in a lawsuit that she and other employees were forced to participate in a company-sponsored seminar in which they were coerced to strip to their underwear in front of co-workers and strangers who ogled them.
The 23-year-old woman described the sessions and so-called “trust-building” exercises as “bizarre” and a form of “psychological abuse” in which workers were required to participate lest they lose their jobs. If such accusations are true, the Panda Express matter represents a textbook case of sexual harassment and a hostile workplace. The plaintiff filed the lawsuit in February. Panda Express denies the allegations.
Coerced to undress in front of strangers
Only days after leaving the seminar early in July 2019, the woman — who worked at Panda Express for three years — was fired. The former employee noted that she stripped down for the exercise because she believed doing so was her “only chance for promotion.” The seminars, which usually lasted all day, served as a “prerequisite to promotion,” according to the lawsuit.
The “trust-building” exercise included an incident in which the female employee and an underwear-clad male participant were persuaded to stand before the group and hug. In the civil lawsuit, the woman claims she was a victim of sexual battery and a hostile work environment and suffered emotional duress.
Defendants include restaurant chain Panda Express and Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy, a consulting firm that organized the exercise. Both are California-based organizations. Members of the Alive Seminars team allegedly ogled the underwear-clad women while laughing and smiling.
Subscribing to such a bizarre ritual that demeans, harasses and abuses employees is illegal. If you find yourself the victim of such antics by your employer, advocate for yourself and other similar victims.