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Suit claims pay cut after missing unusual seminar

Attorney claims the strictly male seminar involved naked men talking about sexual encounters.

September 24, 2010|By Joseph Serna, joseph.serna@latimes.com

An attorney is suing his former Newport Beach law firm, claiming it cut his pay in retaliation for not attending an all-male seminar in the mountains where men sit in a circle nude and talk about their sexual experiences.

Steven Eggleston — now of Irvine-based Callahan, Thompson, Sherman & Caudill LLP — is suing the law firm of Bisnar Chase in Newport Beach. He claims that when he refused to go the unorthodox seminar meant to strengthen the bonds among the men, he was run out of the firm.

He claims that for his first five months with the firm starting in July 2009, he was being paid $15,000 a month. In that time, firm partner John Bisnar suggested he go to a retreat called "New Warrior Training" by a global nonprofit, The ManKind Project.

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Researching the seminar, Eggleston claims in one exercise men sit in a circle naked and are supposed to divulge a sexual experience when a wooden sex toy is passed to them.

In other activities, men strip, are blindfolded and walk through the forest holding hands with a supervisor.

"(Eggleston) claims it happens, but not every time," said law firm partner Brian Chase. "I've never been there, but I know people who've learned a lot from it. It sounds strange on its face, but if you haven't been there it's probably wrong to criticize it, either."

Eggleston asserts that Bisnar insisted he go, and when he refused, his pay was cut to $10,000 a month and eventually to nothing.

"It was a very abusive environment," said Kathleen Hartman, Eggleston's lawyer. "When he didn't go, everything just escalated."

"Did my partner say, 'Hey, you should go to this seminar?' That's the only true fact," Chase counters. "It was never a job requirement. It was never pushed on anybody."

As attention-getting as the claims are, Chase said they're a red herring.

In truth, those $15,000 payments were actually advances that Eggleston was expected to eventually pay back when he started making commission of case settlements, according to Chase.

After 90 days, the advances would be reduced to $10,000 and then expire altogether after another 90 days, he said.

Eggleston, who worked as a personal injury attorney, and the firm agreed to separate, the firm contends.

Bisnar Chase filed a lawsuit against Eggleston Sept. 13, seeking commission from cases he started in their firm and continued to handle after leaving the business.

Hartman said they are working toward an agreement with Bisnar Chase on that issue. As far as what led Eggleston to leave the firm, a resolution isn't in sight.

"No good deed goes unpunished," Chase said. "This is all going to be hilarious a year from now."

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