Behind the Scenes
Witnesses in Bikram Yoga Wrongful Termination Trial Tell Tales of Threats, Use of 'B' Word and More

Witnesses in Bikram Yoga Wrongful Termination Trial Tell Tales of Threats, Use of 'B' Word and More

Oh to be in the courtroom in the first case to go to trial against Bikram Yoga founder Bikram Choudhury. Choudhury faces six lawsuits related to alleged rapes and sexual harassment of employees and former yoga students.

The first of the cases to go to trial involves his former legal counsel, Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, who alleges Choudhury fired her for investigating the rape allegations, for not assisting in covering up the alleged rapes and for complaining about his treatment of female employees and trainees. Jafa-Bodden also alleges Choudhury sexually harassed her.  

Unfortunately, Club Industry doesn't have the resources to send someone to California to cover the trial, but I've been following it through various media reports, which I am summarizing in this blog with links to the original stories so you can check those out. You can read the original lawsuit in the window at the bottom of this blog. Scroll to page 19 for the beginning of the actual lawsuit.

Witnesses in the Jafa-Bodden trial, which started Jan. 5 in the Superior Court of California, Los Angeles County, have alleged that Choudhury often called non-Indian women the "B" word and "white trash," MyNewsLA.com reports.

Choudhury took the stand last Wednesday, not only denying that he fired Jafa-Bodden for her investigation of the rape claims but also denying the rape allegations themselves, according to an article by Law360.com.

Jafa-Bodden, who is original from India and received her law degree in Great Britain, according to her attorney, filed suit against Choudhury and Choudhury's Los Angeles-based business, the Bikram's Yoga College of India, in June 2013, three months after she was fired by Choudhury. The lawsuit also names as defendents Choudhury's wife, Rajashree Choudhury, and Petra Starke, who had been chief lawyer to President Barack Obama's Economic Council before becoming president and CEO of the Bikram's Yoga College of India in March 2013.

On an interesting side note that is related to these claims against Choudhury, Starke filed a lawsuit of her own against Choudhury and Bikram's Yoga College of India in August 2015 after she said the company stopped paying her and then fired her in January 2015 after she reported to others within the company "even more acts of apparent sexual misconduct by Choudhury during a business trip to New York and Atlantic City," her lawsuit states. We'll cover that lawsuit as it progresses, but in the meantime, you can read her lawsuit by going to the bottom of this blog to the second window.

But back to the Jafa-Bodden lawsuit. According to Choudhury's lawyers, Jafa-Bodden was not actually employed by Choudhury or the college but by the Indian-based law firm of Fox Mandal. They also contend Choudhury discontinued using her services because he found out she was not licensed to practice law in California.

On Jan. 12, Som Mandal, a partner at Fox Mandal, testified that Jafa-Bodden was employed by his law firm and not by Choudhury, according to a report by Law360.com. In 2011, she was sent by the law firm to California to work with Choudhury as a member of the Fox Mandal firm, Mandal testified.

In opening remarks on Jan. 5, as reported by MyNewsLA.com, Mark Quigley, the plaintiff's attorney, said that Jafa-Bodden became employed by Choudhury in March 2011 under a sponsorship suggested by Choudhury so that Jafa-Bodden could move from her native India to the United States and work for Choudhury's business, which is headquartered in Los Angeles, without a California license.

Quigley said Choudhury was happy with Jafa-Bodden's work until she began looking into lawsuits against the company, including the rape allegations and a discrimination complaint by a black employee.

Quigley said that after Jafa-Bodden began complaining about how Choudhury treated female employees, about how he had sex with trainees and about how he had urinated in front of her, Choudhury told Jafa-Bodden, "I'll have you deported, I'll have you killed."

On Tuesday, Jafa-Bodden testified, repeating these allegations. She said that Choudhury told her to "mind [her] own f-ing business," according to a story by Law360.com.

Robert Tafoya, counsel for Choudhury, stated in his opening remarks that the allegations against Choudhury are false. He said that Choudhury thought Jafa-Bodden was licensed to practice law in California, that the urination incident happened because the plaintiff walked into the restroom unannounced. He noted that Choudhury is not a saint and does use bad language on occasion.

Another article from MyNewsLA.com reported on the testimony of Rajashree Choudhury, the wife of the yoga guru. Rajashree was the first witness called by the plaintiff's attorney. She testified that her husband only uses derogatory words for women during training classes, including "prostitute" and "bitches" to be funny and people clap when he does so. She said that she complained to her husband about several of his comments, including unflattering remarks he made about employees who he thought were overweight and comments he made to a reporter that women he refuses to have sex with want to commit suicide.

Rajashree Choudhury filed for divorce from Choudhury in December, according to court documents obtained by TMZ. 

A recap by Law360.com of the first week in court, noted the following testimony:

  • On Jan. 7, Sharon Clerkin, a former Bikram's Yoga College of India employee who handled teacher training registrations, testified that after the allegations of rape initially surfaced, Choudhury said to a class of trainees that he should rape more women because it was good for business. Clerkin has filed her own suit against Choudhury on allegations that she was fired for getting pregnant.
  • On Jan. 8, Robert  Gilchrest, a lawyer who served as outside counsel for Choudhury in the past before being removed as counsel by Choudhury, testified on Jan. 8 that he had handled cases with Jafa-Bodden and that Gilchrest and Choudhury both knew Jafa-Bodden did not have a license to practice law in California as far back as mid-2012.
  • Gilchrest testified that Jafa-Bodden told him that one time Choudhury asked her to sit on his hotel bed with him.
  • Gilchrest also testified that he had seen Choudhury verbally abuse women.

 

 
 
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