Bikram Choudhury, creator of hot yoga and founder of Bikram's Yoga College of India, Los Angeles, must pay $6.4 million in punitive damages to his former legal counsel, a jury determined on Tuesday.
On Monday, the jury found for the plaintiff, Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, in a civil case accusing the yoga guru of wrongful termination, sexual harassment, defamation, breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress and 20 other claims. Jafa-Bodden, former legal counsel for Choudhury, filed the lawsuit against Choudhury in April 2013. The trial began in Superior Court of California, Los Angeles County, earlier this month.
The jury awarded Jafa-Bodden $924,000 in compensatory damages on Monday, but because the jury found that Choudhury acted with malice, oppression and fraud, the plaintiff's lawyers were allowed to argue for punitive damages. After Jafa-Bodden's lawyers presented their case for punitive damages to the jury Tuesday, the jury awarded the additional $6.4 million to the plaintiff.
One juror in the case, Debbie Valencia said of Choudhury in a news report from ABC7 new in Los Angeles, "He was a liar."
(View comments from Jafa-Bodden and one of her attorneys plus pictures of Choudhury leaving the courthouse after the verdict by going to the video from ABC7 news in Los Angeles.)
During the trial, the plaintiff accused Choudhury of terminating her employment with him after she began investigating claims against him by hot yoga instructors and trainees who said he sexually assaulted or harassed them. Six women have filed civil suits against Choudhury. One woman settled the case for an undisclosed sum. Choudhury has repeatedly denied the allegations.
In 2014, Choudhury sued his insurance company, Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Co., for breach of contract because he said they refused to defend him in this lawsuit and the others. The insurance company argued that the defamation claim in the Jafa-Bodden suit was not covered by the commercial general liability coverage that Choudhury and his business had with the company. The insurance company also alleged that the policy's employment-related practices exclusion applied. However, in December 2015, the judge ruled that the policy does cover the defamation claim and the exclusion noted did not apply, so Philadelphia Indemnity must pay to defend Choudhury.
Choudhury claimed in court that he almost filed for bankruptcy because the lawsuits have decreased attendance at his hot yoga teacher trainings, which are his income source.
However, he acknowledged in court that he had 40 luxury cars that he said the state of California now owns "through an oral agreement he reached with the state and Gov. Jerry Brown," according to a story by the Los Angeles Times.
The Times story also quoted Jafa-Bodden as saying she was "gobsmacked" by the $6.4 million judgment. She said in the story, "I feel vindicated. I'm elated."