Calif. Lawyer Sues Over Attending All-Male Mountain Retreat

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Eggleston's lawyer, Kate Hartman, denied that her client had signed a contract and said he brought more than 100 cases to the firm over eight months. He was "freaked out" by what he learned about the ManKind Project over the Internet, she said, and twice refused to attend the seminar, leading to problems with his boss.

"I've talked to many former employees at Bisnar and Chase, and they don't know about any other seminars being offered other than this particular one," Hartman said. "Based on the information that I have, the only seminar they've asked employees to go to -- and they're very hot and heavy on it -- is this New Warrior training. I don't think professional development needs to involve taking off your clothes and discussing your sex life."

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Mankind Project Deals With 'Sexual Shame'

Eggleston's lawsuit has brought unwanted attention to the ManKind Project, which some men credit with helping them confront childhood traumas. The complaint said Eggleston learned about what ManKind refers to on its website as a carved wooden phallus by doing a Google search, which also yielded reports of the 2005 suicide of a 29-year-old man who shot himself two weeks after attending a warrior weekend near Houston.

Carl Griesser, executive director of the ManKind Project, said the nudity is optional and comes near the end of the weekend seminar. The exercise is optional as well. There is nothing sexual about the nudity, he said, and sex and masturbation are forbidden.

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"The primary reason for using [the wooden phallus] is to help men deal with sexual shame," Griesser said. "In our culture where sex is so charged, the fact that we do this is something that a lot of people are really uncomfortable about. There is so much homophobia in the culture that even the concept of men being nude together in some context other than locker room is seen as really weird, if not crazy."

The 25-year-old project includes 35 nonprofit and charitable organizations in seven countries, Griesser said. It operates 30 centers in the U.S. -- with the 48-hour, $650 New Warrior Training Adventure.

"Our focus is basically on teaching accountability and integrity to men," Griesser said. "In our culture, there aren't too many options for men. They tend to be either extremely macho or kind of bumbling idiots and neither of that is very accurate for most men."

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Asked whether there is touching, Griesser said: "A person can but it is absolutely not a part of the program... It's completely nonsexual, and our intention is to give men an opportunity to talk about what their experience of the body, their physicality and their sexuality has been."

Eggleston's complaint refers to the wrongful death lawsuit filed against ManKind's Houston operation by the family of Michael Scinto, a recovering alcoholic who committed suicide in July 2005, about two weeks after attending a seminar.

A Houston Press story about the death quoted a letter Scinto wrote to the sheriff's office before taking his life, in which he wrote of being required to sign a confidentiality agreement, of being blindfolded and taken on tours in the nude, of naked men dancing around candles, and men revealing their sexual histories while passing a wooden phallus. After his death, Scinto's family discovered a list of ManKind members that included prominent local politicians and academics.

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