This Horrible Panda Express Story Is Why BS 'Self-Improvement Seminars' Need To Be Regulated
A former Panda Express employee is suing the company over a 2019 incident of sexual abuse at a leadership seminar she was told she needed to attend in order to be eligible for a promotion.
In what was apparently meant to be a "self-improvement" exercise of some sort, the employee was required to strip down to her underwear and talk about her vulnerabilities in front of a classroom full of other employees. When a male employee was required to do the same thing, he broke down in tears and the female employee was required to hug him, while they were both still in their underwear, being stared at by other Panda Express employees.
It is entirely unclear how this would improve anyone's ability to manage a Panda Express.
The female employee, a cashier at the time, had been working at Panda Express in California for nearly three years and was only making $11.35 an hour. She had hoped to get a promotion but was told that the only way she would be considered was if she attended this four-day seminar conducted by a company called Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy. It was not cheap. She had to borrow hundreds of dollars from her relatives in order to attend, and lost four days of work (and thus four days of pay).
And in exchange for that, she got this.
Via Washington Post:
"The atmosphere resembled less a self-improvement seminar than a site for off-the-books interrogation of terrorist suspects," the lawsuit said, comparing the overall effect to "that of a particularly nasty drill sergeant."
On one day, seminar participants were told to pretend they were on a sinking ship and that only four of them would survive, the suit said. On the following day, leaders allegedly filmed them while instructing them to act as if a light from above was coming to suck away their "negative energy."
And then, in front of dozens of other employees, the woman was told to remove her clothing and share her inner struggles, the lawsuit said. Ramirez said that, combined with the forced hug, this particular portion of the seminar constituted both sexual battery and a hostile work environment.
Panda Express claims to have no official stake in Alive Seminars, but the only people attending that "self-improvement" seminar were employees of Panda Express and the Panda Express logo was on many of the class materials. They claim to have no knowledge of what went on in these seminars, either. It might have been a good idea to find that out before requiring their employees to attend and pay for these seminars in order to qualify for a promotion.
In a statement to the Washington Post, the fast food restaurant stated that they are taking the accusations "very seriously," stating:
"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."
Here's a good way to treat people with respect. If a company wants to make a promotion contingent on attending a "self-improvement" seminar, they should pay for that seminar themselves (and also find out what the seminar entails).
The fact is, most of these seminars are absolute scams. The best case scenario is that they end up just being a super expensive drama or improv class, and the worst, well ... I guess we know what the worst is now.
One does not have to be accredited in any way to start up a service like Alive Seminars, nor to be an independent life coach. If I wanted to, I could start up a business offering such seminars to corporations like Panda Express and I wouldn't be violating a single law. And that should terrify anyone.
The "about us" section on the Academy's website doesn't say anything about the background of those who started it or those who work there, or what their qualifications are. Nope, it's just this word salad:
Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy began with a vision and a statement powerful. That as the declaration is made, the action is taken Which was done with love and passion. With that love and passion creating basic and advanced programs and Leaderships To prepare leaders both in their community, in their jobs and their homes Alive continues to thrive on our dedication and passion given to each individual person and that is why great doors continue to open in our walk. Always remember the change in me will change the world.
Do you know what that says? Because I sure don't.
Whenever you have a situation like this, where people with no credentials in psychology or mental health are doing this kind of work, there is a fairly high likelihood that things are not going to end well. Hell, they could still end poorly even if people do have those backgrounds — there have certainly been some messed up mental health professionals as well. However — if an actual psychologist were to require a patient to get naked as part of their therapy, it would be a criminal offense in many states (including California) and they could go to prison.
Alas, if some random person calling themselves a life coach or whatever tells you to get naked and talk about your vulnerabilities, it's certainly messed up, and you could file a civil suit as this woman is doing, but they wouldn't be criminally liable like a licensed therapist would be.
If people are going to be messing with people's heads in this kind of way, it stands to reason that they should be held criminally liable for such an offense, just like an actual therapist would be. If not that, there are least has to be some kind of regulation, some kind of accreditation, or some kind of seminar they can take that might help them understand why it's really not okay to force people to stand in front of a group of people stripped down to their underwear in order to work at a Panda Express.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse