The founder of global yoga empire, Bikram yoga, has been ordered to pay one of his former employees roughly $6.4 million in punitive damages. A Los Angeles County jury made the decision Tuesday after lawyer Minakshi Jafa-Bodden alleged that Bikram Choudhury not only sexually harassed her, but also fired her after she began investigating another woman’s rape allegation.
The punitive damages come a day after the very same jury ordered the controversial celebrity guru to pay about $924,000 in compensatory damages to his former legal advisor, who claimed in her lawsuit that she had also been the victim of gender discrimination, abuse and retaliation.
The new award brings the total damages to about $7.4 million — a hefty amount even for a man who is notorious for charging big bucks for his excruciating 90-minutes yoga session, mostly attended by celebrities, models and elite housewives.
“We think the jury's verdict is a tremendous vindication of all of Ms. Bodden's efforts to stop this abusive and harassing conduct not just towards herself but to numerous other women who have attempted to stand up to Bikram Choudhury,” Jafa-Bodden’s lawyer Carla Minnard said in a statement to the New York Daily News. “The truth is finally out about an abusive tyrant who has engaged in despicable conduct towards women for a very long time.”
The lawsuit also detailed Jafa-Bodden's constant exposure to “offensive conduct” by the 69-year-old, which included making vulgar gestures and disparaging remarks about single mothers such as, “make sure we don’t hire single women with kids in the future.” The complaint also alleged that the famed guru created a “hyper-sexualized” and “degrading” environment for women by demanding his female staffers brush his hair and give him massages.
Other claims included alleged discrimination against African Americans, homosexuals and Jews. On one occasion, Choudhury was reportedly quoted as saying Hitler had the right idea but “he was just not efficient enough. If he was more efficient, all these f---ing Jews would be finished.”
Jaffa-Bodden is not the only one to accuse the instructor of such abhorrent behavior. Since 2013, six other women have also brought sexual assault lawsuits against him. However, the famed guru has always addressed the accusations as “big lies.”
“I never assaulted them,” he told CNN last year. “The answer is, I feel sorry for them. Women love me, so if I really wanted to [be] involved with the women, I don't have to assault the women.”
Although he later admitted making obscene references during his training sessions, he maintained his claim that he fired Jaffa-Bodden because she wasn't licensed to practice law in the United States.
Choudhury created Bikram yoga in Los Angeles in the 1970s. He has since claimed that his methods, performed in a room heated to 104 degrees, can cure knee injuries and arthritis. His techniques are taught at more than 600 studios across the world and consist of 26 poses and 2 breathing exercises. In October 2015, he lost a court appeal seeking to copyright his poses.