Indian-American Yoga guru asked to pay over Rs 6 crore compensation

Prominent Indian-American Yoga guru Bikram Choudhury has been asked to pay USD 924,500 as compensatory damages to his former lawyer by a US court over allegations that he sexually harassed her and fired her for probing claims of abuse made by other women against him.

Attorney Minakshi Jafa-Bodden in her lawsuit claimed that she suffered gender discrimination, wrongful termination and sexual harassment while working for 69-year-old Choudhury, the founder of Bikram Yoga. Los Angeles jury yesterday deliberated for about a day, before returning with a unanimous verdict in favour of Minakshi.

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.”

Choudhury said Minakshi was let go in 2013 because she did not have a license to practice law in the United States, the Los Angeles Times reported. The jury found that Choudhury acted with malice, oppression and fraud — findings that allow Minakshi to seek punitive damages, the daily said.

Minakshi claimed that Choudhury persuaded her to leave her native India to work for him as his general counsel in 2011. During her employment, she alleged, Choudhury repeatedly sexually harassed her and subjected her to obscene comments.

The lawyer alleged that she was fired in 2013 after she attempted to investigate allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Choudhury, including allegations of rape by one of his female students.

Mark Quigley, who along with attorney Carla Minnard represented Minakshi, after the jury’s decision said, “She faced retaliation and intimidation when she refused to stay silent about witnessing illegal behaviour.” “This verdict sends an important message, that speaking out when you see signs of sexual abuse is the right thing to do,” Quigley said.

Choudhury’s lawyer, Robert Tafoya, declined to comment after the verdict.

Minakshi’s lawsuit is one of multiple cases of alleged sexual assault filed against Choudhury, who built a yoga empire in the US after moving 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.

Six other women in recent years have sued Choudhury, alleging that he sexually assaulted or harassed them.