- A former Panda Express employee is suing the chain, as well as a seminar company, for allegedly forcing her to strip down to her underwear during a “self-improvement” exercise.
- Her lawsuit claims that seminar leaders also forced her to hug a man while both were in their underwear, that participants were filmed while in their underwear, and that participants were told to wait quietly in a dark room only to have a man later come in and berate them.
- Panda Express has distanced itself from the seminar company and denied allegations that employees were required to participate in the seminar to be eligible for promotions.
- The seminar company has also since said that it does not work with Panda Express, despite a Facebook post on the company’s page indicating otherwise.
Worker’s Lawsuit Describes Disturbing Seminar
A former Panda Express worker from a store in Santa Clarita, California, is suing after she said she was forced to strip down to her underwear in front of other employees during a 2019 “self-improvement” seminar.
According to the woman’s lawsuit, the on-paper goal of that exercise was for participants to open up to one another about their vulnerabilities “until everyone else in the group ‘believed’ them.”
However, she said seminar staff members — which were employed by the company Alive Seminars, not Panda Express — used the moment to “openly [ogle]” at her and other female participants.
At one point during the exercise, the woman claimed that a male participant, also in his underwear, “had some difficulty ‘convincing’ the others and as a result, broke down in tears.” The lawsuit then alleges that the female employee was forced to “hug it out” with him.
Even though she was humiliated, she said she did so, largely because she had been told that completing this seminar was a pre-requisite for promotion at Panda Express and because she’d already shelled out several hundred dollars just to take the course.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg of some of the dark claims laid out in this lawsuit.
During that same exercise, the woman said staff dimmed the lights and instructed participants “to stand up and close their eyes, pretending that a light from above would come down and take all the ‘negative energy’ out of them, then pretend that a hole opened up in the ground and swallowed the “negative energy.”
While this was happening, seminar staff turned a cell phone light on and allegedly used that phone to record the participants.
During another exercise, participants were allegedly left alone in a room and told not to talk. An hour later, a man stormed in yelling in Spanish while berating the participants for doing nothing — even though they had been told to do just that.
According to the lawsuit, that man then said the participants were “‘nothing’ and ‘don’t matter,’ rounding on some people to berate them individually, spittle flying.”
The woman filing the suit summed up the seminar as “psychological abuse,” saying it began to look more and more like a “cult initiation ritual as time went on.” In fact, after it, she even quit her job.
Panda Express and Alive Seminars Respond
The woman is suing both Alive Seminars and Panda Express, which she maintains sent her and other employees to the program.
“Panda Express is on the hook because they were fully aware of what was going on,” her lawyer, Oscar Ramirez, told The Washington Post.
Ramirez also noted that other employees have also since joined in a class-action lawsuit.
Panda Express has distanced itself from Alive Seminars, saying it has no interest in or control over the company.
A spokesperson has also denied that employees were forced to participate in the seminar in order to be considered for promotions, though he did add that the company is investigating the claims detailed in the lawsuit.
In an interview with La Magazine, Alive Seminars asserted that it doesn’t work with Panda Express; however, a Facebook post from 2019 heavily seems to contradict that.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (LA Mag) (CBS Los Angeles)
Couple Kicked Out of Texas Restaurant for Wearing Masks Out of Concern for Immunocompromised Son
While the pair has been met with widespread support online, they’ve also had to defend themselves from critics who slammed them for going out to a restaurant in the first place.
Texas Restaurant Sparks Outrage With Face Mask Ban
A couple in Texas said they were forced to leave Hang Time Bar & Grill earlier this month after refusing to comply with the owner’s ban on face masks.
Natalie Wester and her husband Jose Lopez-Guerrero went out to meet friends at the restaurant in Rowlett on Sept. 10. They told NBC’s TODAY this was a rare date night for them since they are new parents to a four-month boy who has cystic fibrosis.
The pair wore their masks out in public to be as safe as possible with their son in mind as he stayed home with his grandmother that night.
According to a Facebook post from Wester, they were immediately asked to take down their face coverings when entering the restaurant. Because the music was loud, they assumed it was related to staff checking their IDs, so they put their masks back on and went to order. After ordering, Wester said a waitress came over to tell her, “Our manager sent me over because I’m nicer than he is. And yes, this is political.“
“She then told me that masks are not allowed in their building, and they can make the rules because they are [a] private business,” Wester wrote in her post. “She said that the mask ‘doesn’t work, is like using a chain-link fence to keep out mosquitoes, and doesn’t give people enough oxygen.'”
Wester allegedly explained that they were wearing masks out of concern for their immunocompromised baby at home. However, she was reportedly told there was no other option and that they would have to close out their tab if they didn’t comply.
Because the couple didn’t want to make a scene or ruin their friends’ night, they decided to go home and wrote about their experience on Facebook, which they also left as a review on the restaurant’s page. It, of course, went viral.
Owner Stands by Policy
Since then, the owner of the restaurant, Thomas Blackmer, has admitted on Facebook and to reporters that he doesn’t allow masks inside his business.
He told The Washington Post that he implemented the ban in April because he doesn’t think masks stop COVID from spreading and believes criminals can use them to get away with a robbery, theft, or vandalism in a place where his two adult children work.
“I’m not doing things that put them at risk,” he added.
He has also reportedly shared anti-vax and anti-mask content on social media.
After news of this incident spread, Blackner was was hit with a flood of backlash both over the phone and online. He claims he even had to move from his Dallas apartment into one he’d already rented but hadn’t moved to after he was doxxed on Twitter.
Still, he is not backing down on his stance. “This is right,” he told The Post, “and if we don’t have a business next week, we’ll be fine.”
Meanwhile, the couple at the center of this story has also faced backlash from people who asked why they went out in the first place. Many are digging through their social media posts to call them out about any other times they were spotted without a mask or at a large gathering.
For example, strangers found a photo of Wester not wearing a mask in August while taking her mom to see a Chris Stapleton concert. Wester told The Post she wore a mask inside the venue until they got to their seats and decided to take some pictures.
The couple has also responded by noting that their son’s doctors have encouraged them to still live their lives, telling TODAY that they “just advised us to be a little extra cautious when we’re going out and use our brains and make decisions as we feel appropriate, and that’s why we left.”
Wester additionally argued that photos of her without masks or at events don’t negate any part of their experience at this specific establishment.
“Tom has stated that he does not care for masks nor believes that they work,” she told The Post. “I am confused why me wearing one (or not wearing one) in any setting would matter to them?”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (TODAY)(Dallas Morning News)
Amazon To Reconsider Workers It Rejected or Fired for Marijuana Use Amid Labor Shortage
The company cited inequities among minority communities, as well as a desire to expand its applicant pool and hire “great new team members,” though much of the decision may be based on Amazon’s inability to retain workers.
Amazon To Rehire Fired Workers
Amazon announced Tuesday that it will allow former employees fired for marijuana use to be rehired thanks to a new policy that also extends to applicants who were turned away for failing pre-employment screenings.
“Pre-employment marijuana testing has disproportionately affected communities of color by stalling job placement and, by extension, economic growth, and we believe this inequitable treatment is unacceptable,” Beth Galetti, senior vice president of human resources, said in a blog post.
In the post, Amazon also revealed that it’s now actively lobbying for the federal legalization of marijuana after previously voicing support for the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act in June. That same month, Amazon announced that it would stop screening most of its applicants for drug use.
What Prompted Amazon’s Change of Heart?
In addition to citing inequities among minority communities, Galetti said the company “recognized that an increasing number of states are moving to some level of cannabis legalization—making it difficult to implement an equitable, consistent, and national pre-employment marijuana testing program.”
“Amazon’s pace of growth means that we are always looking to hire great new team members, and we’ve found that eliminating pre-employment testing for cannabis allows us to expand our applicant pool,” Galetti added.
But there might actually be another reason for Amazon’s policy change. “Expand[ing] our applicant pool” likely doesn’t just mean finding more qualified workers. Instead, it might simply be an attempt to find any eligible workers.
Hourly employees reportedly turn over at a rate of 150% every year, with many staying just days or weeks. In fact, reports indicate that execs at the company are worried that they’ll eventually run out of people to employ if nothing changes.
The pandemic-induced job crunch certainly hasn’t helped Amazon’s struggle to find workers, but it’s far from alone in that predicament. For months, businesses have found themselves add concession after concession in the hopes of attracting workers, many of whom as wary to return to in-person work amid the surging Delta variant. In many cases, those concessions have included higher pay, sign-on bonuses, and — like Amazon — an end to drug screenings.
According to the staffing firm ManpowerGroup, 9% of more than 45,000 employers surveyed worldwide have now eliminated job screenings or drug tests in order to “Attract & Retain In-Demand Talent.”
In a survey last year from Current Consulting Group, 36% of businesses that indicated they were changing their drug screening rules said they were doing so because of delays or the inability to fill positions “due to high marijuana positives.”
See what others are saying: (Gizmodo) (Business Insider) (Vice)
Major Chinese Company on Verge of Collapse Could Create Economic Trouble in U.S.
The company, Evergrande, accumulated $305 billion in debt through a business model that some have deemed “the biggest pyramid scheme [in] the world.”
Evergrande Can’t Pay Back Loans
The Chinese real estate company Evergrande, the second-largest property developer in the country, will likely be unable to meet interest payments on $84 million in offshore bonds due this week.
That amount almost seems like chump change compared to the whopping $305 billion in debt it managed to accrue since its founding in 1996, but if Evergrande defaults on its payments and collapses, it could send shockwaves through Chinese markets and economies abroad.
At its height, Evergrande was a Fortune 500 company. In addition to real estate, it also owns a theme park, a line of electric cars, a mineral extraction group, and a soccer team; however, it has struggled to maintain its real estate business model over the last several years due to government crackdowns on how much companies can take out in loans.
Evergrande Struggling to Pay Its Debts
In the 2000s, Evergrande aggressively borrowed money from banks and other lenders to buy land from local governments that were eager to sell. As the value of land rose, it kept borrowing, ultimately driving up the price of land even more. Because of that, many discredited Evergrande’s business model as “the biggest pyramid scheme the world has yet seen.”
For years, the model did not stir up any major challenges from Chinese regulators, but in 2018, President Xi Jinping began emphasizing “financial risk” as a problem that the government needed to address. Two years later, regulators imposed a system known as “three red lines,” which was meant to curb unregulated borrowing.
Under the system, the more a company owes, the less it is allowed to borrow. Notably, Evergrande crossed all three of the “red lines,” so regulators barred it from borrowing any more money.
But Evergrande would need to generate some form of income if it wanted to stay afloat. Because of that, it pre-sold more than 1.4 million apartments it hadn’t yet finished building. In other words, Evergrande stopped borrowing from official lenders and essentially started borrowing from everyday homeowners, asking them to pay major deposits before their homes were completed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some people have now waited years for their homes to be ready.
At one point, Evergrande even became so strapped for cash that it forced its own employees into a corner, telling them to provide the company with a short-term loan or lose their bonuses. That, in turn, led to some employees needing to take out loans through banks.
Similar to its inability to pay back banks, earlier this month, it stopped paying back the loans from its employees.
Amid Evergrande’s uncertainty, the company’s stock value has steadily fallen over the past year from around $4 last September to just 30 cents Tuesday.
Will This Lead to a Global Market Crisis?
There is currently no market crisis or collapse, only concerns that one could come.
While Evergrande’s inability to repay its lenders is unsettling enough for homeowners and the company’s employees, the effects of an Evergrande default could be much more far-reaching.
For one, if Evergrande defaults, banks and other firms will potentially be forced to lend less given the fact that the company owes large sums of money to around 300 institutions. If that happens, it could lead to a credit crunch, meaning companies would struggle to be able to borrow money at affordable rates. Some might be forced to close up shop for good.
On top of that, the property values of existing homes in China would likely diminish. Since homes are such a valuable asset, that would likely lead to a decrease in consumer spending.
With those two effects combined, other countries would almost undoubtedly feel the financial shock. On Monday, upon the continued news that Evergrande likely can’t pay lenders, the U.S.-based Dow Jones fell 900 points. While it has recovered somewhat, other major U.S. indices like the S&P 500 and the NASDAQ saw similar pullbacks.
Many have asked if China is about to face a “Lehman Brothers moment,” a reference to the events that caused the disastrous 2008 recession. For now, the answer is uncertain, but many analysts expect it won’t.
That’s because while a full-scale crisis isn’t off the table, many believe the Chinese government will step in to bail out Evergrande, which some have called “too big to fail.”
“Rather than risk disrupting supply chains and enraging homeowners, we think the government will probably find a way to ensure Evergrande’s core business survives,” Mattie Bekink, of the Economist Intelligence Unit, told the BBC.
Still, nothing is certain. It’s possible China could refuse to bail out Evergrande to avoid what could be seen as it setting a bad precedent as it tries to rein in corporate debt.
Chinese markets were closed Tuesday, but they will reopen Wednesday. No doubt, analysts will closely study how investors in the country react and whether or not that reaction could give the public a better idea about how the government might respond.