LOS ANGELES — A man who made an empire out of his high-heat brand of yoga has been ordered to pay well over $7 million to a former legal adviser who said he sexually harassed her.
A Los Angeles jury ordered Bikram Yoga founder Bikram Choudhury to pay $6.5 million in punitive damages Jan. 26 on top of $924,000 in compensatory damages he was ordered to pay in the same case a day earlier.
The woman, Minakshi "Miki" Jafa-Bodden, had said the Indian American yoga guru sexually harassed her and wrongfully fired her for investigating another woman's rape allegation.
"This is a good day for women," Jafa-Bodden said in a statement following the verdict.
Choudhury's attorney, Robert Tafoya, did not return calls for comment Jan. 25 or Jan. 26.
Jafa-Bodden worked as head of legal and international affairs at Choudhury's Los Angeles yoga school from spring 2011 until March 2013, when she said she was abruptly fired from her six-figure position for refusing to cover up an investigation into a rape allegation.
"Jafa-Bodden faced retaliation and intimidation when she refused to stay silent about witnessing illegal behavior," her attorney, Mark Quigley, said in a statement.
Additionally, Jafa-Bodden said Choudhury sexually harassed and inappropriately touched her, and tried to get her to stay with him in a hotel suite.
Choudhury, 69, has built an empire around Bikram Yoga, a rigorous, 90-minute routine performed in a room that can reach more than 100 degrees. The technique is taught at more than 650 studios worldwide and has drawn a throng of devoted followers.
Choudhury contends he is now nearly bankrupt.
Jafa-Bodden's wrongful termination lawsuit is separate from sexual assault lawsuits filed by six other women. One of those lawsuits is in the process of being settled while the rest are set for trial later this year.
His attorneys have said he never sexually assaulted any of the women suing him and that prosecutors had declined to bring charges in their cases.
Mary Shea, one of the attorneys representing the women filing the assault lawsuits, said prosecutors never investigated the allegations and that just because charges weren't filed doesn't mean the women aren't telling the truth.
Choudhury experienced another major court loss in October when he lost an appeal to copyright his sequence of 26 poses and two breathing exercises.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the sequence used in hot yoga classes is a process intended to improve people's health, so copyright law does not cover it.
IANS adds: "I feel elated and vindicated," Jafa-Bodden told the New York Daily News after the Jan. 26 verdict that was handed down by a Los Angeles jury consisting of six women and three men.
Testifying that he is "almost bankrupt,” Choudhury told jurors he had no income at all last year and his collection of more than 30 luxury cars has been promised to California Governor Jerry Brown for a children's school dedicated to automotive engineering.
In his closing argument on Jan. 26, Quigley highlighted trial testimony from the former White House lawyer who worked for Choudhury after Jafa-Bodden and filed her own wrongful termination lawsuit in August.
The lawyer, Petra Starke, told jurors earlier this month that Choudhury presided over a "crazy" work environment with a "sexually charged atmosphere,” Quigley was quoted as saying.
Starke testified that she instituted strict sexual harassment policies and training when she took over as CEO.
PTI adds: During testimony, Choudhury strongly denied allegations of sexual assault against him.
Choudhury described accusations of mistreatment and abuse of employees as "lies" and "big lies."
"I don't do that," he testified. "I don't have to."