A new lawsuit against Chinese food chain Panda Express alleges that workers were ordered to strip down to their underwear as part of a "cult-like" team-building exercise.
The Pasadena Star News reports that a 23-year-old former Panda Express employee at a franchise in Santa Clarita, California is claiming that she "was required to strip down to her underwear and hug a partially clad co-worker during a 'cult-like ritual' at a 2019 training seminar sponsored by the company as a prerequisite to promotion."
Oscar Ramirez, the attorney representing the former Panda Express worker, said that his client is seeking restitution against the company and is suing it for sexual battery, a hostile work environment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
"We are looking forward to presenting this case to a jury so that a clear message can be sent to Panda Express — which owns and operates over 2,000 restaurants — that it must put to an end to its practice of requiring its employees to undergo horrific psychological abuse and harassment to be promoted," he told the Pasadena Star News in an email.
In a statement released to the newspaper, Panda Express seemed to pin the blame for any alleged mistreatment the worker received on Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy, a third-party contractor that it hired to conduct team-building exercises.
"Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy is a third-party organization in which Panda has no ownership interest and over which it exercises no control," the company said. "While we 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.