Jury orders Bikram Choudhury to pay $6.4 million in punitive damages to lawyer

Minakshi Jafa-Bodden alleged that Choudhury sexually harassed her.

AB Wire

Controversial Indian American yoga guru Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram yoga, was ordered by the Los Angeles County jury Tuesday to pay roughly $6.4 million in punitive damages to a lawyer who alleged that Choudury sexually harassed her while she worked for him and that she was fired after she began investigating claims that he had raped a yoga student.

The award comes a day after the same jury ordered Choudhury, 69, to pay more than $924,500 in compensatory damages to the attorney, Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, who said in her lawsuit that she suffered gender discrimination, wrongful termination and sexual harassment during her time working for Choudhury, reported the Los Angeles Times.

“I feel vindicated, I’m elated,” Jafa-Bodden was quoted as saying after the verdict, describing Choudhury as “a dangerous, dangerous predator.” She said she was “gobsmacked” by the size of the punitive damages. One of her attorneys, Carla Minnard, called Choudhury’s actions “dispicable, inappropriate and illegal.”

Choudhury left the courtroom soon after the verdict was announced without commenting. His attorney declined to comment, reported the Times.

Jafa-Bodden’s lawsuit is one of several filed against the eccentric guru, who built a yoga empire after moving from India to California in 1971. Choudhury gained millions of followers through his style of yoga, which consists of a series of 26 poses, done over 90 minutes in a room heated to 104 degrees.

Choudhury testified Tuesday that his business has not made any money in recent years and that he nearly had to declare bankruptcy. Choudhury said his yoga business relies on revenue from teacher training sessions, which involve a nine-week course required for followers who want to teach at a Bikram-affiliated studio. In recent years, attendance has gone down and the trainings have lost money or broken even.

“I have to borrow money from my family and friends to pay the bill,” he said. “I have no money.”

At one point, Choudhury acknowledged under questioning that he kept up to 40 luxury cars, including a fleet of Bentleys, Ferraris and Rolls-Royces, in a Van Nuys garage.

Choudhury testified the cars were actually now owned by the state of California, through an oral agreement he reached with the state and Gov. Jerry Brown. As part of the agreement, Choudhury testified, he offered his collections of cars to be used to start a “Bikram auto engineering school for children” in which children could learn about cars.

Six other women in recent years have sued Choudhury, alleging that he sexually assaulted or harassed them. One of the women filed court paperwork this month indicating that she and Choudhury had reached a conditional settlement; the filing did not disclose the agreement’s details.

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