Former Panda Express employee alleges she was 'forced to strip down to her underwear' at cult-like seminar
Lawsuit alleges the seminar 'quickly devolved into psychological abuse'
A former Panda Express employee alleged in a lawsuit Wednesday that the fast-food chain pressured her to attend a "bizarre" self-improvement seminar that "quickly devolved into psychological abuse" when she was "forced to strip down to her underwear" in front of strangers and coworkers.
Jennifer Spargifiore started working at a Panda Express in California in August 2016 and said she was told she had to attend Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy's self-improvement programs in order to be promoted.
She signed up for a four-day seminar in July 2019, but said the program quickly devolved into a frightening experience.
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"The attendees were prohibited from using their cell phones; there was no clock in the room; the doors and windows were all covered with black cloth," the lawsuit reads. "The atmosphere resembled less a self-improvement seminar than a site for off-the-books interrogation of terrorist suspects."
The lawsuit said that the seminar became more and more like a "cult initiation ritual," but Spargifiore and her coworkers stayed because they were "told that their opportunity for promotion would depend on completion of the seminar."
At another point in the seminar, Spargifiore was told to strip down to her underwear, then had to "hug it out" in the middle of the room with her coworkers, the lawsuit said.
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Spargifiore alleges that after the seminar, her working conditions were intolerable and she was constructively terminated that same month.
Panda Restaurant Group, the parent company of Panda Express, said they are investigating the allegations.
"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," a spokesperson for Panda Restaurant Group told FOX Business. "Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy is a third-party organization in which Panda has no ownership interest and over which it exercises no control."
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Alive Seminars did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Spargifiore is seeking damages for sexual battery, wrongful termination, and infliction of emotional distress.