Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center's audit of its No. 2 official included a look at $6,000 in tuition expenses for seven workers to attend a seminar by Landmark Education.
David S. Hefner, according to an e-mail from Landmark general counsel Art Schreiber, was a part-time contract employee of Landmark from October 1992 until June 2004. That would mean Hefner had been chief operating officer at Hershey Medical Center for 18 months while still a contract employee of Landmark. Hefner said he continues to serve as a volunteer on a Landmark advisory committee and receives reimbursement for travel expenses from Landmark.
Hefner said the weekend seminar was intended to train medical-center employees. But he otherwise wouldn't comment about his relationship with Landmark and its seminars, which are controversial.
"I don't know that I would comment specifically about Landmark other than we are engaged in change at the highest level that any health care organization has had to face," Hefner said. "We are looking for anything and everything to arm our executives and senior leaders with an edge in dealing with change."
The audit notes that Hefner's affiliation with Landmark was disclosed in a press release on June 19, 2003. The main focus of the release was his being named chief operating officer and executive director of the medical center. But the audit also says that he did not include Landmark on several conflict-of-interest disclosure forms.
In response to the audit, the medical center's management directed Hefner to file a new disclosure form with the center's Conflict of Interest Review Committee. The committee will ensure all transactions between Hershey and Landmark are handled in accordance with policy.
Landmark Education grew out of EST (the common name for Erhard Seminar Training) after EST founder Werner Erhard, beset by tax and incest accusations of which he was later cleared, sold the assets to Landmark. Landmark is headed by Erhard's brother, Harry Rosenberg. Erhard's birth name was Jack Rosenberg, and he once was a used-car and encyclopedia salesman in Philadelphia.
Landmark's critics say its training methods are intensive, disorienting and even humiliating.
"I would not recommend it under any circumstances whatsoever," said Rick Ross, head of the Rick Ross Institute for the Study of Destructive Cults, Controversial Groups, and Movements. Ross, who is involved in a lawsuit with Landmark, said his organization receives frequent complaints related to Landmark, including workers upset that their employers forced them to attend seminars that tout belief systems they do not agree with. (The institute's Web site is www.culteducation.com.)
Schreiber declined comment, saying it concerns a subject of pending litigation.
Hershey spokesman Sean Young and Hefner said no Hershey employee is ever coerced into attending Landmark Education or any other training sessions.
"It's a choice of our senior leaders whether they participate or not," Hefner said. "There's a whole myriad of different things to partake in."
According to a statement e-mailed by Schreiber, Landmark "is an international training and development company that offers a unique educational program that creates breakthrough results for people and organizations." It "offers programs that allow people to produce concrete results in their effectiveness, impacting those areas that are most important to them, including career, relationships, and productivity."
He provided a copy of a Harvard Business School report from 1998 that gave Landmark passing grades.
In 2004, a postal worker in Oklahoma was shot at random by a man who reportedly had just taken a Landmark seminar. A lawsuit was filed by the family of the deceased postal worker, but Schreiber said the family withdrew the lawsuit.
Gaylon C. Hayes, a lawyer in Oklahoma City who represented the postal worker's family, says he withdrew the lawsuit as a strategic move. He said that, under Oklahoma law, a lawsuit can be withdrawn and then refiled no more than a year later. He said he plans to refile. Landmark was forcing him to depose witnesses from around the world, he added.
Landmark has sued Ross for product disparagement.
Ross' pro bono lawyer is Peter Skolnick, a renowned intellectual property and First Amendment lawyer. His clients include David Chase, creator of "The Sopranos," and the estate of Vladimir Nabokov, author of "Lolita."
Skolnick said Landmark is now trying to withdraw the lawsuit -- but he's fighting on behalf of Ross to keep it alive. Skolnick wants to pursue discovery he believes will confirm that Landmark threatens lawsuits against individuals and news organizations that are critical of Landmark. These are typically settled, Skolnick said, in return for a statement by the defendant backing off from criticisms.
"We asked the court to give us discovery to show that the case [against Ross] was not brought in good faith," he said.
Schreiber said in response that Skolnick "knows or should know" that it is not the practice of Landmark to bring bad-faith lawsuits to harass critics or unfriendly journalists. He declined comment on whether Landmark was trying to withdraw the lawsuit against Ross, saying that it is matter of pending litigation.
The case is being heard by U.S. District Judge John C. Lifland in Newark, N.J.
Skolnick said he hopes the court will place conditions on any withdrawal of the lawsuit against Ross by Landmark that will make it difficult for it to bring these types of lawsuits in the future.