A jury determined on Monday that Bikram Choudhury sexually harassed and wrongfully terminated the employment of his former legal counsel, and he has been ordered to pay her $924,000 in compensatory damages. Because the jury found that Choudhury acted with malice, oppression and fraud, the plaintiff's attorneys will present on Tuesday a case for punitive damages that could increase the amount Choudhury is ordered to pay.
The jury in the trial that began in early January in the Superior Court of California, Los Angeles County, found in favor of the plaintiff, Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, on all counts, Carla Minnard, one of the attorneys for Jafa-Bodden, told Club Industry. (The counts are listed starting on page 19 of the document at the end of this story.)
"We're pleased with the jury's verdict," Minnard said. "We are pleased first to have had an opportunity in a public forum to bring all of this conduct, which I find to be despicable, which I think any reasonable individuals would — man or woman — we're happy to have had the opportunity to have brought that to light. That was important. It was one of Mikki's — our client's — main motivators. I think she feels vindicated by the verdict and is very pleased by it as well."
Jafa-Bodden filed a complaint for damages against Choudhury, the creator of Bikram Yoga and the founder of the Bikram's Yoga College of India, Los Angeles, in June 2013. Jafa-Bodden had served as legal counsel for Choudhury and the college, but she alleges she was fired when she began investigating multiple rape allegations against Choudhury and refused to cover up the alleged rapes. Jafa-Bodden also alleged that Choudhury sexually harassed her.
Choudhury faces six civil cases brought by former employees and students alleging sexual harassment and rape. Choudhury has denied all the claims. One of those cases, involving Jane Doe 2, a former student from Colorado, settled last week for an undisclosed sum.
Choudhury also faces a civil suit from Petra Starke, former president and CEO of Bikram's Yoga College of India, for claims that include failure to prevent discrimination and harassment, hostile work environment, wrongful termination and breach of contract. Starke, who had served as chief lawyer to President Barack Obama's Economic Council before her employment with Bikram's Yoga College of India began in March 2013, filed her suit in August 2015. She alleges she was fired in January 2015 after she reported to others within the company that she had witnessed "apparent sexual misconduct by Choudhury during a business trip to New York and Atlantic City," her filing states.
After the jury in the Jafa-Bodden case began deliberations on Friday, Minnard received calls from the defendant's attorneys over the weekend expressing interest in a settlement, she said. Jafa-Bodden chose not to accept those offers.
"There were settlement offers, but the client was absolutely committed to seeing this through to verdict," Minnard said. "She was adamant about letting the jury decide and not taking that away from them. I commend her for that. She's a single mother with a young daughter and low income. I don't know that I would have had the courage to have made that decision."
In October, Choudhury lost an appeal of a 2012 ruling that he could not copyright a sequence of yoga poses that make up hot yoga, which Bikram created.