WASHINGTON– A Panda Express cashier went public with her experience in a “self-improvement” seminar that she says became more of “a cult initiation ritual.” She came forward for a story by The Washington Post on Wednesday.
During the seminar, the cashier said she was forced to strip to her underwear in front of other staff members in 2019 and was told to open up to the group about her vulnerabilities, according to the article.
However, when a male colleague broke down crying while trying to do the same thing, the leaders of the session told the cashier she had to go a step further: She had to “hug it out” with him while they were both still undressed, according to the article.
The 23-year-old cashier in California filed a lawsuit last month against the fast-food chain.
“This was called a ‘trust-building’ exercise, but it was opposite of building trust,” her attorney, Oscar Ramirez, told The Washington Post. “It required employees to subject themselves to dehumanizing activities in order to prove their loyalty to the company.”
The cashier was not identified by name in The Post.
She said less than three years into her job at Panda Express in Santa Clarita, California, she learned about the training run by Alive Seminars, according to the lawsuit. Furthermore, her manager told her the only way she would be considered for a promotion was if she signed up for the class.
However, the victim said she “found herself stripped of her cellphone, trapped in a room with blacked-out windows, and loudly berated by a seminar leader who told her and others they amount to ‘nothing’” according to the article.
While Panda Restaurant Group released a statement to The Post, Ramirez said Panda Express employees received materials featuring the fast-food chain’s logo.
“We do not condone the kind of behavior described in the lawsuit, and it is deeply concerning to us. We are committed to providing a safe environment for all associates and stand behind our core values to treat each person with respect,” the statement said.
“Panda Express is on the hook because they were fully aware of what was going on,” Ramirez said.