FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CN ) - A Florida man claims in court he and his sons joined a "self-growth" program that he says turned out to be a "cult" that engaged in numerous egregious acts and has caused him ongoing emotional distress.
In a complaint filed in Broward Court circuit court on Nov. 29, plaintiff Mark Robbins claims says he was drawn to Pompano Beach, Florida-based Gratitude Training program based on its promises to challenge participants to "illuminate" their blind spots; "enhance" their critical thinking skills; to teach them to "operate as a solution-oriented leader" and to "fully access authentic gratitude and joy."
“We create a safe environment where all your buttons can be pushed,” GT’s website states. “We do this so you can see for yourself when you are triggered and how you respond or react to such triggers. The training is not out to get you, it is simply designed for you to see ‘how you do you’ - neutrally.”
Robbins says he and his sons joined the program on June 1, "expecting a healthy and wholesome self-growth program, and had no expectation that they were entering into a cult," according to the complaint.
What he claims to have found is that the program has a sordid history and allows sexual predators and minors to participate side-by-side.
Although Robbins says he quickly became disenchanted with the organization, he says his adopted 19-year-old sons -- both of whom, he claims, have "special mental health needs"-- stuck with the program.
Robbins says one of his sons is a transitioning transgender individual, while the other has been diagnosed with a "borderline personality disorder."
He goes to say that after he left the program, he started a blog about the defendant Gratitude Training organization and its founder, Josephine Englesson. By his own admission, he uses the blog and Facebook to publish posts on his concerns and theories about both.
He's also purchased the domain name “gratitudetrainingexposed.com” to further spread his assertions of alleged unethical and criminal activity carried out under the guise of the program.
In a statement to Courthouse News, Englesson said, "The whole case is completely and totally frivolous and that we are filing our own defamation suit shortly because of all of this."
According to Robbins' complaint, Gratitude Training LLC works with non-party New Beginnings Retreat, a group that defines itself as helping people come to terms with their gender-identity issues.
Robbins claims he was defrauded at a New Beginnings Retreat fundraiser in June, and that days later, he was asked to leave the program after he “openly questioned the cult’s practice of not paying students and/or staff for work completed," according to the complaint.
Robbins also claims he worked 100 hours for the cult and never saw any money. He claims these wages under Florida’s minimum wage provisions.
Robbins says after leaving the program, he witnessed one of his sons having sex with a program staff member in his home. He also claims program members coerced one of his sons to dance in a thong with 60 other scantily-clad people.
He claims that since he began attacking the organization, his car has been vandalized, he's found a dead rat on his doorstep, and he has received death threats.
Robbins also says the program filed complaints against him with the police and sought a restraining order to try to stifle his commentary on his blog.
Robbins seeks actual damages, liquidated damages, interest, costs, and attorneys’ fees on claims the defendant program violated his rights, retaliated against him, caused he and his sons emotional distress through its negligence, and exposed them to a risk of criminal assault.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.