A Los Angeles jury has ordered Bikram Choudhury, founder of Bikram (hot) yoga, to pay $6.4 in damages to his former attorney who accused him of sexually harassing her and eventually firing her when she began to investigate numerous other sexual assault cases brought against the once popular guru.
The Los Angeles Times is reporting on the steep fine Choudhury has been ordered to pay Minakshi Jafa-Bodden $6.4 million in punitive and compensatory damages after he subjected her to harassment and retaliation for investigating claims of sexual abuse against the legendary guru.
Jafa-Bodden’s attorney, Carla Minnard, said Choudhury also sexually harassed her client, inappropriately touching her and trying to get her to stay with him in a hotel suite. He fired her in 2013.
Jafa-Bodden is one of six women who have accused Choudhury of sexual assault. The most recent was filed in February of 2015 by a Canadian woman named Jill Lawler who claims Choudhury raped her when she was just 18. Lawler claims the attack occurred during a nine-week class to become a Bikram yoga instructor. She was at first expected to massage him while watching Bollywood movies late into the night, during which time he would grope her. Even though he apologized, weeks later he asked her to come to his hotel room where he allegedly raped her.
Choudhury’s lawyers contend that none of the women who are suing him were sexually assaulted which is why prosecutors declined to bring charges in their cases. However, as the Times reports, some of these cases weren’t pursued because of a lack of corroborating evidence.
Six other cases are currently pending in court.
Choudhury told jurors that he has been left nearly bankrupt due to the millions he has spent defending himself against lawsuits and claimed his business has also been waning.
“I have to borrow money from my family and friends,” he told jurors. “I have no money.”
He said this even though under cross-examination, he was forced to admit that he has a fleet of up to 40 luxury cards such as Bentleys, Ferraris and Rolls-Royces. He claims he gave the vehicles away in order for the state to start a school known as the “Bikram auto-engineering school for children” – a statement that drew smirks and outright laughs from several jurors.
A spokesman for California Governor Jerry Brown told The Times there is no such school planned.
Choudhury’s vast empire was built thanks to money from yoga-enthusiasts who sign up for his nine-week course to become instructors. The classes cost anywhere from $12,500 to $16,600.
In recent years, attendance has dropped and the training courses are now either losing money or breaking even, Choudhury told the jury.
They weren’t buying it and on top of the $6.4 million in punitive damages, they also awarded Jafa-Bodden more than $900,000 in compensatory damages.
“I feel vindicated, I’m elated,” Jafa-Bodden said after the verdict, describing Choudhury as “a dangerous, dangerous predator.”