A former yoga student has filed a lawsuit against her former guru and the New York City studio she once worked for over allegations of unlawful sexual advances.
Holly Faurot is seeking $1.6 million through six causes of action naming Jivamukti Yoga Center, guru Ruth Lauer-Manenti, Managing Director Carlos Menjivar and Jivamukti Yoga founders David Robert Kirkpatrick (aka David Life) and Sharon Gannon as defendants in a complaint filed Feb. 1 in New York County court.
Faurot's complaint alleges Lauer-Manenti engaged in unlawful sexual assault and sexual harassment in violation of the Yoga Center's code of professional standards for teachers. The code calls for teachers to avoid sexual relationships with students and calls all forms of sexual behavior with assistants, students and employees unethical, according to an exhibit filed in the case.
Faurot was a student under Lauer-Manenti and considered Lauer-Manenti her guru while she was an employee from 2010 to September 2014, according to the complaint. Faurot participated in Jivamukti teacher training in 2009 and was Lauer-Manenti's apprentice until late 2010. The relationship between the mentor or guru and his or her student continues for the student's career and often for life, according to the complaint.
The complaint also alleges that the Yoga Center's teachings related to the guru/student relationship are "more akin to a cult, in strict adherence to any instruction given by the Guru to his or her student." The student must follow and obey instructions and demands that the guru makes of the student.
The complaint alleges Lauer-Manenti began to engage in conduct in 2011 that violated the center's ethical guidelines. At that time, Lauer-Manenti allegedly asked to stay at Faurot's apartment due to its proximity to the center. After staying in the guest room, Lauer-Manenti eventually asked to sleep in the same bed as Faurot, which allegedly led to Lauer-Manenti touching Faurot in a sexual manner on multiple occasions, according to the complaint. The alleged conduct occurred both at Faurot's apartment and at the Yoga Center. Faurot posed for nude, semi-nude or sexually suggestive photos at the urging of Lauer-Manenti, according to the complaint.
"I followed their philosophy of total devotion and surrender to a guru with all my heart," Faurot told the New York Daily News. "That's why I didn't question her psychological manipulation."
As the alleged sexual contact and encounters increased, Lauer-Manenti allegedly extended increasing privileges to Faurot. The privileges included prime-time teaching slots, Lauer-Manenti presenting Faurot as her protégé, and invitations to private dinners with Life, Gannon and other highly regarded yoga teachers, according to the complaint.
Those privileges began to dissipate when Lauer-Manenti began spending time with another female teacher and lost interest in Faurot in the fall of 2013, according to the complaint. Faurot filed a formal complaint with the center in October 2015, and Menjivar conducted an investigation, according to an exhibit filed in the case. Menjivar allegedly disclosed Faurot's complaint to Lauer-Manenti and her counsel, Susan Marcus, in alleged violation of the Jivamukti confidentiality policy.
The center allegedly asked Marcus to explore a holistic resolution based on restorative justice, according to an exhibit filed in the case detailing e-mail correspondence between Faurot and Marcus. Menjivar emailed Faurot in November 2015, saying the center decided to participate in Marcus' program toward "a healing resolution" as a result of its investigation, according to the complaint.
Faurot alleges violations of the New York City Human Rights Law and New York Executive Law in the complaint. She is seeking punitive damages of not less than $1 million against the Yoga Center, not less than $500,000 against Menjivar and not less than $100,000 against Lauer-Manenti.