Irvine, California - Attorney Steven Eggleston was suspicious when his boss pressed him to attend a weekend male retreat, but refused to tell him what would be happening there, saying participants were sworn to secrecy.
So he did a Google search and found out why.
Men would be holding hands and walking naked, blindfolded, through a forest. Then they would sit nude in groups of 30 to 50, passing around a wooden dildo and giving lurid details of their sexual history. Eggleston said he found out that the men will grab each other's penises if they wish.
Eggleston didn't like what he read and refused the invitation. Now he's suing the firm and his bosses, saying he was badgered, yelled at and ultimately had his pay slashed to zero for not attending the retreat, held at a Santa Barbara, Calif., mountain campground and sponsored by the ManKind Project, according to a lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court.
The suit has sparked quite a bit of conversation in Southern California.
"This whole thing is very sick!" exclaimed Los Angeles radio talk show host John Kobylt of KFI640.
Kobylt interviewed one of the organizers of "The New Warrior Training Adventure" this week.
"What's the point of this?" Kobylt asked organizer Marshall Krupp. "I'm a lawyer and I'm trying to settle cases. Why do I have to talk about my sex life, my abuses? Why do I have to sit naked, pass around a wooden dildo? What does that have to do with anything?"
Krupp said the men shouldn't be grabbing one another and are told that sexual activity isn't allowed.
"The weekend is about giving men an opportunity to look at what's not working and working in their lives, to become better men of the world, better men with their families and their children," Krupp said.
"Well, how can you become a better man," Kobylt asked, "sitting naked on a tree stump?"
That's apparently what Eggleston wanted to know.
"I talked to other attorneys who went on the retreat, so it's the real thing," Eggleston, now with a new firm, told AOL News. "After everything I read about this, I didn't want to go."
Approached by Supervisor
Eggleston said he was approached by his supervisor, attorney John Bisnar, shortly after he started his job in July 2009. Bisnar asked if Eggleston would go to an upcoming retreat, saying, "I can't tell you that you have to go as a requirement of your employment, but Steve, you really need to go to this," according to the complaint.
During Eggleston's Google search, he found out that the family of a Texas man sued ManKind Project after the man committed suicide following a similar retreat, the complaint said. The case settled out of court.
"That is what scared me," Eggleston told AOL News.
Eggleston said he was under the impression that Bisnar would be attending the event, and he didn't want to sit naked discussing his sex life with his boss or have any inappropriate touching
"It's a salacious lawsuit, it's bogus. It really is," said Brian Chase, a partner in Eggleston's old law firm, Bisnar Chase, and a defendant in the lawsuit. "I've never gone to this event, I haven't been retaliated against, and now I own half the law firm."
Chase said the retreat is one of many options, such as Tony Robbins seminars or Deepak Chopra books, offered to employees for their personal and professional development.
He said he didn't know any of the details surrounding nudity because he hasn't gone to the event.
"A Modern Male Initiation"
ManKind Project's website says the adventures are "a modern male initiation and self-examination. We believe that this is crucial to the development of a healthy and mature male self, no matter how old a man is. "
It also says, "You will see men mentor other men, support each other, play together and form a safe, authentic container where men are free to be exactly who they are, without defenses or masks.
"During your training you will stand shoulder to shoulder with an immensely rich mix of masculinity, with occupations and ages as wide as masculinity itself."
Eggleston said in the complaint that he was contacted several times by ManKind Project officials who tried to convince him to attend the event. Part of his research revealed that attendees are told to carpool so they would not be able to leave the event once they got there.
Krupp said the men were told to carpool in groups for their "safety." He also confirmed the nude walks and sit-downs with the dildo.
"There is what we call a talking stick," Krupp told KFI640. "It is a representation of a man's penis, and it actually gives a man permission to speak should he want to speak. He can choose to pass it on to the next man and not speak."
The complaint also says that "one Internet report stated that a supervisor told attendees that they could place their hand on the penis of the man next to them," the complaint said
"This sounds creepy," Kobylt said on KFI640.
The men are not required to disrobe and are not forced to stay at the event if they want to leave, according to Krupp.
Lawyer Says His Pay Was Cut
After he refused to attend the first retreat, Eggleston said, his pay was cut. Months later, he refused to attend a second retreat, and his pay was slashed to zero. He quit after eight months, leaving behind cases that should have resulted in commissions, the complaint said.
Instead, commissions have been withheld, essentially giving him zero net pay for his entire tenure, said his lawyer, Kathleen Hartman. The lawsuit, filed Aug. 31, alleges 13 causes of action, including sexual harassment, retaliation, fraudulent concealment and infliction of emotional distress.
Defendant Chase told AOL News that Eggleston was not a regular employee per se, but rather given a loan that had to be repaid after six months.
"Because this group has a nudity angle, he filed a lawsuit to extort money out of me," said Chase, who handles personal-injury cases. "At the end of a six-month period, he owed me $50,000. So what did he do? He quit."
As for Kobylt, it's a safe bet he won't be taking Krupp up on his offer to attend the next seminar, on Nov. 5.
"I know if I was in Steven Eggleston's shoes and I know if I read about this cockamamie naked camp up in Santa Barbara, I'm not going," Kobylt yelled. "I don't want to see naked guys, I don't want to see naked guys looking at naked me, I don't want to share my sexual experiences, I don't want to hold the naked dildo!"