Self-help group Gratitude Training is fully aware of its shady reputation. The Florida-based seminar company has faced serious criticism since its inception, including countless accusations of being a cult. So much so that its organizers have dedicated an entire webpage to address (not deny) the allegations. The page just screams "sketchy."
Though Gratitude Training doesn’t seem to mind the "cult" label, its leaders insist they have done nothing wrong in their practices; however, a new lawsuit filed by a former trainee tells a much different story.
The Daily Beast reports a man named Mark Robbins is suing Gratitude Training for wage theft, after he paid thousands of dollars to participate in its three-step improvement program. Robbins says he and his twin children joined the group that was supposedly designed to "awaken the planet, maximize joy, and actualize peace." Instead, he claims he found himself in an abusive, exploitative sex cult that scammed him and others out of their money.
According to the Daily Beast, the three-step program costs a total of $3,583 and a shit load of time. The final phase of the program spans almost 200 hours over a three-month period. Robbins said he didn’t complete the last step because he began to witness several instances of misconduct. He claims he saw Gratitude staff bullying a woman in "an altered state" and scolding an elderly man with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. He also said he saw bizarre sexual rites, "which included group stroking and massaging, lifting members in the air by their buttocks; and skits in which male members wear diapers."
Gratitude founder Jo Englesson denies the sex cult allegations.
"There’s nothing immoral or sexually inappropriate going on in these trainings. It’s a completely frivolous lawsuit and we’re filing a defamation suit against him next week," she tells the Daily Beast. "If it’s a cult in the sense of the cult of Apple, people who like the computer product, then yeah. But it’s not a cult in the way he’s alleging."
According to his complaint, Robbins is accusing the company of cheating him out of his wages. He claims he worked more than 100 hours for Gratitude and was never paid. Robbins also says he knew of another trainee who "gave so many hours of unpaid service … that she was poverty stricken, and posted on Facebook that she would pose nude for food or money." When he complained about his missing wages to the company, he was reportedly kicked out. Robbins’ twin sons remained in the group. He claims one of his children was "coerced in GT into dancing in a thong with 60 other scantily clad people."
"Since leaving the Cult, Robbins has received death threats, and been the subject of false claims," his suit reads. "Robbins’ car was also vandalized. Cult members left a dead rat on his doorstep."
Robbins says the experience has resulted in "chronic headaches, nausea, vomiting, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and depression."