Panda Express Workers Forced To Strip In ‘Cult-Like’ Team-Building Seminar; 23-Year-Old Woman Sues For Sexual Battery, Hostile Work Environment, And Intentional Infliction Of Emotional Distress

A former employee of a Panda Express in Santa Clarita alleges 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.

The 23-year-old woman is suing Panda Restaurant Group, headquartered in Rosemead, and Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy in Pico Rivera for sexual battery, a hostile work environment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

She is seeking unspecified damages in the lawsuit filed last month in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Although the woman is named in court documents, the Southern California News Group does not identify suspected victims of  sexual assault.

‘Horrific psychological abuse’

“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,” Oscar Ramirez, the woman’s attorney, said in an email Monday.

Officials with Panda Restaurant Group said the company takes the woman’s allegations seriously and has conducted an investigation.

“Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy is a third-party organization in which Panda has no ownership interest and over which it exercises no control,” says a statement from the company. “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.

“We are committed to providing a safe environment for all associates and stand behind our core values to treat each person with respect,” the company said. “We do not condone the kind of behavior (the plaintiff) has alleged took place at Alive Seminars and Coaching Academy, and we would not intentionally allow it to occur within or on behalf of our organization.”

In an emailed statement, Alive Seminars said its training sessions are presented with respect and dignity.

The victim says she began working for Panda Express in 2016 and was told in July 2019 by then store manager Matthiu Simuda she needed to complete a self-improvement seminar conducted by Alive Seminars.

“Eager to improve her skills and advance within the company, plaintiff signed up and paid out of pocket to attend a four-day program,” the lawsuit says. “Panda Express pushed its employees in the Los Angeles region to complete Alive Seminars training. In many cases, it was a prerequisite to promotion.”

The seminar was held in a warehouse in East Los Angeles and attended by 20 to 50 Panda Express employees from throughout Southern California, Ramirez said. Those who attended the seminar were required to provide their employee identification numbers and received intake materials with the Panda logo.

“Alive Seminars served — in essence — as an extension of Panda Express’ own Human Resources department,” says the lawsuit.

Participants isolated, treated as ‘terrorists’

The complaint alleges the seminar was bizarre and quickly devolved into psychological abuse.

At the start, attendees were told to sit down and not talk, and were left in isolation for a full hour before a man stormed in, yelling in Spanish and berating them for sitting there and doing nothing, when that is exactly what they had been instructed to do, says the complaint.

The man, an Alive Seminars employee, loudly proclaimed that the attendees were “nothing” and “don’t matter,” and berated them individually, the suit says. “The overall effect was that of a particularly nasty drill sergeant.”

Seminar participants were prohibited from using their cellphones, there was no clock in the room and the doors and windows were all covered with black cloth.

“The atmosphere resembled less a self-improvement seminar than a site for off the-books interrogation of terrorist suspects,” the complaint alleges. “The sensory isolation and intimidation was reinforced by constant yelling and verbal abuse by seminar staff, creating an atmosphere of fear in the room. Nevertheless, most attendees, including plaintiff, felt that they had no choice but to remain because they were sent to the seminar by Panda Express and told that their opportunity for promotion would depend on completion of the seminar.”

Participants required to strip

When the seminar continued on July 13, 2019, the woman allegedly was forced to strip down to her underwear under the guise of trust building.

“Plaintiff — stripped almost naked in front of strangers and co-workers — was extremely uncomfortable but pressed on because she knew it was her only chance at a promotion,” says the lawsuit. “Meanwhile, Alive Seminars staff were openly ogling the women in their state of undress, smiling, and laughing.”

The exercise culminated when the victims and other participants had to stand up to yell about their inner struggles until everyone else in the group believed them.

“The last male participant had some difficulty ‘convincing’ the others and, as a result, broke down in tears,” the suit says. “Plaintiff was told to stand up and go to the middle of the room with the male participant, where they were forced to ‘hug it out,’ wearing nothing but their underwear. Plaintiff was humiliated but did as she was told.”

Seminar resembled cult ritual

As time went on, the seminar more and more resembled a cult ritual, the complaint alleges.

“Alive Seminars staff proceeded to dim the lights,” says the suit. “Plaintiff and the other attendees were instructed 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, one of the Alive Seminars staff had a cell phone with the light on, recording plaintiff in her state of undress.”

Attendees, the lawsuit alleges, were confined in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

“If plaintiff wanted to use the restroom, someone from the Alive Seminars staff would stand outside the restroom door,” says the suit. “When another participant ran into the restroom to throw up, Alive Seminars staff ran after her. Another male participant was only given a small trash can to throw up in and was forced to do it in front of all the other attendees.”

During the July 13 session, the victim made an excuse of a family emergency and left the seminar.

The victim went to the seminar hopeful and optimistic about her future with Panda Express but left three days later “scarred and downtrodden.” Soon after, she quit her job because of emotional distress.

The suit alleges Panda Express “did not care about plaintiff’s experience at Alive Seminars or that she had been humiliated in front of her co-workers. Her chances of promotion were destroyed. plaintiff’s working conditions had become intolerable and Panda Express had no interest in addressing the situation.”

Source: OC Register

Nike Executive Of 25 Years Ann Hebert Abruptly Leaves Company After Report Reveals Ties To Sneaker Reselling Business Operated By Her Son

Nike Inc. executive Ann Hebert abruptly left the company following a Bloomberg Businessweek report about her son operating a business reselling sneakers and using a credit card in her name.

Hebert, who served as vice president and general manager of North America, departed Monday, effective immediately, Nike said in a brief statement. She had been in the role since last June, overseeing Nike’s sales, marketing and merchandising in the region.

The executive had spent more than 25 years with the Beaverton, Oregon-based company, which said it would announce a new leader for North America shortly.

Bloomberg Businessweek’s latest cover article explored the story of Joe Hebert, Ann’s son, a college dropout who makes a living as a sneaker reseller. Known to his customers as West Coast Joe, he started reselling streetwear in high school and now flips hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of shoes each month.

Ann Hebert didn’t reply to emailed questions for that report, but a Nike representative said the executive disclosed relevant information about her son’s business to Nike in 2018. The company said at the time that Hebert did not violate “company policy, privileged information or conflicts of interest.”

After Hebert’s departure, a spokesperson for Nike said the executive made the decision to resign. Hebert didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on LinkedIn.

Source: Bloomberg

Taco Bell Joins Chicken Sandwich Wars With ‘Chicken Sandwich Taco’, Popeyes Responds With Taco Hack

Taco Bell leapt right into the grease-fueled flames of the fast food chicken wars on Monday, with the unveiling of its much-anticipated new fried chicken menu item, the Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco. While it remains to be seen if this sandwich-taco hybrid will convert Popeyes Chicken Sandwich fans to the taco side, so to speak (probably not), the Louisiana-style chicken chain is already trolling it on Tuesday with a new menu hack created specifically for taco lovers. 

Popeyes posted a step-by-step “TikTurial” of the menu hack on TikTok, complete with the amusingly inaccurate text-to-speech effect. The company created the hack to ensure customers can enjoy fried chicken tacos and “maintain the high quality that they have grown to know and love from Popeyes,” according to a spokesperson. Translation: Forget about Taco Bell’s new take on a chicken sandwich and turn our actual chicken sandwich into tacos, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Notably, the menu hack leaves you with two of the so-called tacos. Here are the steps outlined in the TikTok post:

1. Order the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich.
2. Remove chicken fillet from the bun.
3. Rub the top and bottom bun pieces together to spread the sauce.
4. Tear or cut the chicken fillet in half.
5. Fold the top and bottom bun pieces like tacos, then place the chicken fillet halves in each and garnish with the pickles.

Or… you can just skip steps two through five and just eat your chicken sandwich like a sandwich—you know, without having to play with your food. Then again, we won’t judge if you want to try the hack just for fun. That’s presumably what Popeyes is going for here. That, and snark. The chain did start the chicken wars with that shade-filled Chick-fil-A tweet after all.

Source: Thrillist

PepsiCo Rebrands Aunt Jemima As Pearl Milling Company, Retires Character Based On Racial Stereotype

Aunt Jemima syrups and pancake mixes will be rebranded as Pearl Milling Company, PepsiCo said on Tuesday. 

“Though new to store shelves, Pearl Milling Company was founded in 1888 in St. Joseph, Missouri, and was the originator of the iconic self-rising pancake mix that would later become known as Aunt Jemima,” the company said in a press release.

PepsiCo, which owns Quaker Oats, said in June 2020 it would change the brand name on its Aunt Jemima products, which had long been criticized for their roots in racial stereotypes.

Launched about 130 years ago, the Aunt Jemima brand was in part based on racist stereotyping and imagery, like those seen in minstrel show performances. 

“While work has been done over the years to evolve our brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize that those changes are not enough,” the company said on its updated website on Tuesday.

Aunt Jemima was one of several brands on grocery store shelves that came under scrutiny last year, as the US erupted with protests following the killing of George Floyd. The Uncle Ben’s brand, owned by Mars, in September became Ben’s Original. That brand also dropped its character image. 

The newly rebranded Pearl Milling products will begin hitting shelves in June, PepsiCo said. The company’s products will continue to be Aunt Jemima until then, though they’ll no longer use the character images. 

The company on Tuesday released pictures of its newly rebranded products, which have the familiar red-white-and-yellow coloring. They’ve been updated with the new brand name, along with smaller tags that say: “New name, same great taste, Aunt Jemima.” 

Along with the rebranding, PepsiCo said Pearl Milling Company planned to announce a $1 million grant program committed to empowering black girls and women. PepsiCo previously announced an about $400 million investment in black businesses and communities, the company said. 

Source: Business Insider

Meredith Bethune: The Difference Between Tex-Mex And Mexican Food

Mexican food confused me when I first moved to Texas. What I considered to be quintessential Tex-Mex, like sizzling fajita platters and enchiladas smothered in yellow cheese, were on the same menu as “traditional” Mexican favorites, like tacos al pastor and chiles en nogada. I even encountered a restaurant serving the Lone Star state’s famous queso dip next to cochinita pibil (a specialty from the Yucatán Peninsula) wrapped in flour tortillas. I didn’t know what to make of it. But after talking to several chefs, I learned that the distinction between Mexican and Tex-Mex food has actually been evolving for years, and has even recently started to blur.

The cuisine we now call Tex-Mex is rooted in the state’s Tejano culture (Texans of Spanish or Mexican heritage who lived in Texas before it became a republic) and also Mexican immigrants who hailed largely from Northern Mexico. Until the 1970s, though, most people referred to it simply as Mexican food. In The Tex-Mex Cookbook, Texas food expert Robb Walsh credits Diana Kennedy with removing Tex-Mex from the discussion of traditional Mexican cuisine.

Rick Bayless, however, recently told me at the Austin Food and Wine Festival that when he wrote the draft of his first cookbook, Authentic Mexican, he featured seven culinary regions of Mexico, including the Southwestern United States. “You could even break that down further into the cuisines of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and even the ranchos of California,” he added. Perhaps his view differs from Kennedy’s because he grew up in Oklahoma eating Tex-Mex two or three times a week.

If you’re looking to identify the distinguishing characteristics of Tex-Mex, enchiladas are a good case study. In the classic Tex-Mex version of cheese enchiladas, grated yellow cheese is wrapped in tortillas, and then covered in a dark red chili sauce mixed with ground beef. You’ll also find other typical Tex-Mex ingredients like pinto beans and rice served on the side.

Another difference is the abundant use of cumin in Tex-Mex cuisine. “We use it a lot in the north, but it’s not a spice we use much in the southern part of Mexico,” says de la Vega. Robb Walsh links the heavy use of cumin to the first wave of Canary Islanders who emigrated to San Antonio in the 1700s. Today it’s still a key ingredient in chili con carne, along with chili powder, which, according to Walsh, is a uniquely Texan invention developed by a German immigrant in New Braunfels in the late 1890s. In the late 1800’s, chili con carne was regularly ladled out at bargain prices in the streets of San Antonio at its famed chili stands. “Tex-Mex was never the cuisine of the upper echelon of society,” Bayless observes. “It’s a peasant, working class cuisine.”

The Tex-Mex that most of us think of, full of Velveeta cheese and pre-made taco shells, was shaped by the development of convenience foods in the 1950s. That time period left Tex-Mex, and even Mexican food in general, with a reputation as “just a cheap cuisine, full of sour cream and processed cheese, and that everything is greasy,” says de la Vega.

Fortunately, that perception has changed. “Tex-Mex has now evolved to a different stage,” says Bayless. “It was once a very simple cuisine, but now there are a variety of dishes on the menus.”

Carlos Rivero agrees. “‘Mexican’ is a very broad term because that profile encompasses so many different flavors and ingredients,” explains Rivero. “When you come to El Chile, you can have a modern take on Mexican or you can have the die-hard fajita platter. It’s up to you.”

As the line between traditional Mexican and Tex-Mex continues to evolve, it may become harder to separate the two. As Iliana de la Vega notes, “Either Tex-Mex or traditional Mexican, we can all live together. As long as it’s well-executed food, then, why not?”

Source: Serious Eats

Canada Dry Settles Ginger Ale Lawsuit Over ‘Made From Real Ginger’ Marketing, Agrees To Pay Over $200,000

A man who sued the maker of Canada Dry ginger ale, claiming the brand falsely implied its soda had health benefits, is now $200,000 richer.

The maker of Canada Dry ginger ale settled a class-action false-advertising lawsuit filed by British Columbia man Victor Cardoso, who claimed to have spent years buying the carbonated beverage for his family thinking it had medicinal benefits based on its label promoting it as “Made from Real Ginger” and “Natural,” CTV News reported.

Canada Dry Mott’s agreed to pay $200,000 plus $18,607 in disbursements, even though the company “expressly denies liability and is not required to change its product labeling or advertising for products marketed in Canada,” court documents say. 

The company also agreed it would no longer make claims that its ginger ale is “Made from Real Ginger” in class-action lawsuits also filed in the U.S., according to CTV News. 

Cardoso argued in the lawsuit that Canada Dry’s product labeling aimed to “capitalize” on consumer’s perception of ginger and its health benefits, despite Canada Dry making no direct health benefit claims about the ginger ale. 

“They do buy actual ginger, but then what they do is they boil it in ethanol, and that essentially destroys any nutritional or medicinal benefits,” Mark C. Canofari, a lawyer who represented Cardoso’s claim, said in a statement, according to CTV News.

Source: Fox News

Here are the new Charlotte Hornets uniforms, and everything you need to know about them

Charlotte Hornets fans have loved the teal pinstripes since 1988. The team listened and learned.

Next season’s primary uniforms will be white jerseys with teal pinstripes and teal jerseys with white pinstripes, the Hornets announced Monday. They won’t quite be direct replicas of Alexander Julian’s iconic design, but they’re close.

The new look will be available to fans for retail purchase Oct. 1.

When the Bobcats re-branded to the Hornets’ name and look in the spring of 2014, they adopted the original teal and purple color scheme. However, the uniforms were dissimilar to Julian’s pinstripe-and-pleats look, which so contributed to the expansion team’s popularity in the early 1990s. They were teal as the dominant color, but had broader stripes down the side of jerseys.

The Hornets wore replicas of the original uniforms for a handful of games each of the past three seasons, and again that uniform was wildly popular. So, this new design owes heavily to that look.

“We really had our ear to the ground listening to our fans’ comments, many of which through social media,” said Seth Bennett, Hornets senior vice president for consumer engagement. “As we were unveiling some of the uniforms, we kind of paid attention to the feedback and comments we were getting. And some of the polls that we used, to see the popularity of various uniforms.

“We definitely used that to inform the process.”

Under NBA rules, Bennett said, the Hornets couldn’t change the look of their primary uniforms for at least five years.

The Hornets will wear the new pinstripe uniforms most games next season. There will be two other uniforms available: Purple ones with “CHA” stenciled across the chest and an updated version of the “city edition,” to be unveiled later. Most recently, that “city edition” was a gray uniform with “CHA” across the chest.

The rebrand to Hornets has been a success: Bennett said the Hornets have been in the top half of the NBA in merchandise sales consistently since the switch from Bobcats to Hornets

The original classic uniforms, worn by the likes of Larry Johnson, Dell Curry and Muggsy Bogues, will now only be available for celebrating anniversaries. Bennett said, “it will be a few seasons before you see those classic jerseys again.”

Source: The Charlotte Observer