Jury verdict setback for yoga guru as he fights rape charges.
By Sreekanth A Nair
A Los Angeles jury has asked Indian American yoga guru Bikram Choudhury to pay $924,500 to his former lawyer on her allegations that she was sexually harassed when she worked for him and got fired when she started investigating a claim that he raped one of his students.
Attorney Minakshi Jafa-Bodden alleged that she suffered gender discrimination, wrongful termination, and sexual harassment when she was working for him, reported the Los Angeles Times.
But, terming the accusations of sexual harassment ‘lies’ and ‘big lies’, Choudhury said during testimony that Jafa-Bodden was fired because she didn’t have the license to practice law in the United States.
“Jafa-Bodden faced retaliation and intimidation when she refused to stay silent about witnessing illegal behavior,” Mark Quigley, the attorneys who represented jaffa-Bodden along with attorney Carla Minnard, said in a statement released after the jury’s decisionMonday afternoon.
“This verdict sends an important message, that speaking out when you see signs of sexual abuse is the right thing to do,” Quigley added.
Quigley said that the hearing for punitive damages will begin on Tuesday. The jury has found that Jafa-Bodden is eligible for punitive damages since Choudhury’s actions were based on malice, oppression, and fraud.
Meanwhile Choudhury’s lawyer, Robert Tafoya, didn’t make any comment on the order.
Founder of Bikram’s Yoga College of India, Choudhury, 69, is featured prominently on its website, which details his system of performing 26 unique yoga poses while in a very hot room. He moved to California in 1971 and became very popular in the US.
Apart from Jafa-Bodden, six other women, who were his students, have sued Choudhury alleging that he sexually assaulted them. One of them is said to have reached a conditional agreement with him.
Jafa-Bodden also alleged that he had used vulgar comments against women and minority groups and also pressurized her to cover up his sexual behavior.
In April 2015, a woman named Sarah Baughn had raised the same allegations against him.
“This stuff that he’s teaching is really good stuff, but he’s hurting people and hiding behind this good stuff so people don’t believe he’s capable of hurting people,” Sarah Baughn, a former student, was quoted as saying then.
Besides Baughn’s claim of sexual assault, five other women have come forward with civil lawsuits filed in Los Angeles Superior Court claiming Choudhury raped them.
These lawsuits describe Choudhury as someone who preyed on young women who looked to him for guidance.
In 2013, after studying the allegations of four women, Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prosecute Choudhury.