Bikram Yoga Founder Ordered To Pay $900K For Sexual Harassment
Bikram Choudhury, the inventor and chief proprietor of the Bikram Yoga brand, was ordered by a jury Monday to pay a former employee more than $900,000, according to City News Serivce. The decision comes following a weeks-long trial in which Choudhury's former legal counsel Minakshi Jafa-Bodden alleged that he sexually harassed her, and that she was fired after she began investigating claims he had sexually assaulted yoga students.
Jafa-Bodden was employed by Choudhury at the West L.A.-based “Yoga College of India” until she was fired in March of 2013, according to her complaint. In the months leading up to her termination, Jafa-Bodden said she had attempted to investigate several allegations of sexual assault against the guru that were brought to her attention.
But when she brought news of the allegations to Choudhury himself, the guru dismissed them, saying—according to Jafa-Bodden’s complaint—it would be “best” if she “not look into it any further.”
Aside from the Jafa-Bodden case, six women have filed civil suits against the yogi since 2013, each alleging a cocktail of charges from emotional damages and negligence to sexual assault. While one of these cases, the Los Angeles Times reports, has been settled, at least four are going to be moving through the court system this year, according to prosecutors.
Jafa-Bodden’s complaint, substantiated by witness testimony from former employees employees, also claimed Choudhury established a workplace rooted in sexual discrimination. Female witnesses testified Choudhury ordered them to give him massages while conducting business meetings with the guru, attorney Jafa-Bodden included.
The guru sat on the stand and dismissed the claims as “lies,” “big lies,” himself declaring those testifying against him as “frauds.” The jury disagreed, deciding Choudhury will pay Jafa-Bodden $924,554 in damages.
The yogi himself was born in Calcutta, India, where he became a nationally recognized yoga-champion as a teenager, according to LA Weekly. After moving to the United States, he built an international hot yoga-empire with millions of sweaty, “hard-bodied” followers.
Aside from licensing franchised Bikram Yoga studios, Choudhury holds annual Teacher Training events where students pay anywhere from $12,000 to $16,000 for the privilege of attending. All of this yoga has made Choudhury a very rich man. The guru has a passion for expensive cars, taking particular pride in his collection of Rolls Royces.
This case could be the first of many settlements flowing from the guru's very deep pockets.