Bikram Choudhury, Hot Yoga Guru, To Pay $900,000 In Sexual Harassment Lawsuit: More Scandals Simmer Inside Yoga Empire

Bikram Choudhury, the famed hot yoga guru, must pay for sexual harassment allegations in one of the several scandals simmering within his empire. The Bikram yoga creator, per the order by a Los Angeles jury, will have to shell out more than $900,000 to an attorney. She claimed that Choudhury fired her when she started to look into claims that he had raped a yoga student and that she also was the victim of sexual harassment during the period of her employment by Bikram, reported the Los Angeles Times.

The lawyer, Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, included details in her lawsuit concerning her allegations that she was wrongfully terminated after battling sexual harassment and gender discrimination while Choudhury employed her. Attempting to play down those allegations, 69-year-old Bikram argued that the lawyer’s claims that he abused and mistreated her were “lies.”

Bikram Choudhury has built an empire around his hot yoga classes.
Bikram Choudhury has built an empire around his hot yoga classes. [Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images]

Choudhury and his lawyers tried to persuade the jury that rather than wrongfully fire her, he let her go because she lacked the license needed to perform as a lawyer in the U.S. It took only a day for jurors to return a unanimous verdict for Jafa-Bodden, according to her representative Mark Quigley, who provided a statement on the implications of that verdict.

“Jafa-Bodden faced retaliation and intimidation when she refused to stay silent about witnessing illegal behavior. This verdict sends an important message, that speaking out when you see signs of sexual abuse is the right thing to do.”

For Birkam, however, and his hot yoga empire, it’s not over yet. Because the jury ruled that Choudhury was guilty of fraud, oppression, and malice, Jafa-Bodden can now seek punitive damages, and that hearing starts Tuesday.

Her lawsuit is not the only one that’s hit Bikram and his yoga empire since packing up and landing in California in the early 1970s. The fortune accumulated by Choudhury results from building a huge following of devotees, all of whom use his unique yoga style.

Bikram Yoga has become increasingly popular in the United States due to the success of its founder Bikram Choudhury.
Bikram Yoga has become increasingly popular in the United States due to the success of its founder Bikram Choudhury. [Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images]

Bikram yoga involves performing 26 poses in a room with a temperature deliberately raised to 104 degrees. Classes last 90 minutes. But while Choudhury has fans totaling in the millions, he also has acquired six lawsuits in the past years from women claiming Bikram either harassed or sexually assaulted them. Out of those lawsuits, one alleged victim submitted paperwork to the court revealing only that she had achieved a conditional settlement with Choudhury without releasing any of the specifics.

With the publicity that attended Jafa-Bodden and her claims of sexual harassment and related concerns, Bikram insisted that he was not guilty of sexual assault.

“I don’t do that,” said Choudhury in his testimony. “I don’t have to.”

In the history of her relationship with Bikram, Jafa-Bodden claimed that Choudhury lured her to exit India and take up the position of general counsel. Working for him starting in 2011, the attorney claimed that she struggled with problems that included sexual harassment, crude remarks regarding minorities and women, and demands from Bikram that she hide the allegations that he sexually harassed other women.

Students practice Bikram Yoga, created by Bikram Choudhury.
Students practice Bikram Yoga, created by Bikram Choudhury. [Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images]

During his testimony, Choudhury confessed that he talked about his penis during the teacher training sessions. Those sessions are mandatory for would-be instructors, who take a class lasting nine weeks before they can lead classes at studios affiliated with Bikram.

Moreover, Choudhury admitted that he lied while under oath, saying that he did so because his lawyers advised him to do so. The lies that he revealed involved obscenities during those teacher training sessions. However, Jafa-Bodden refuted the claims by Bikram that she advised him to fib.

Choudhury fired Jafa-Bodden in 2013 at the same time she started to look into other sexual abuse allegations, reported the Daily Mail.

Among the existing lawsuits is one that claims Bikram raped 18-year-old Jill Lawler. She had taken $10,000 out of her college fund in order to go through the nine-week course and thus become a Bikram yoga instructor. However, Jill then discovered that her time with Choudhury included his expectation that she would provide massages while viewing Bollywood films.

Lawler accuses Bikram of groping her during their movie-watching sessions. After apologizing, Choudhury then allegedly requested that Jill visit his hotel room, where he assaulted her sexually.

Attorneys representing Bikram are denying the sexual assault charges. Moreover, Choudhury previously claimed that he had no need to assault anyone because women are so fond of him.

“Women likes me. Women loves me. So if I really wanted to involve the women, I don’t have to assault the women.”

Last December, Bikram’s wife cited irreconcilable differences in filing for legal separation after a 31-year marriage.

[Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images]