The founder of Bikram yoga has been ordered to pay nearly $6.5m (€5.9m) to his former legal adviser, who said he sexually harassed and sacked her for investigating a rape claim.
The punitive damages are in addition to the $924,000 compensation that Bikram Choudhury must pay to Minakshi ‘Miki’ Jafa-Bodden, bringing the total award to about $7.4m.
“This is a good day for women,” Ms Jafa-Bodden said after the Los Angeles jury’s verdict.
Choudhury’s lawyer, Robert Tafoya, did not return calls for comment.
Ms Jafa-Bodden was head of legal and international affairs at Choudhury’s Los Angeles yoga school from spring, 2011, until March, 2013, when she said she was abruptly sacked from her six-figure-salary position for refusing to cover up an investigation into a rape allegation.
“Jafa-Bodden faced retaliation and intimidation, when she refused to stay silent about witnessing illegal behaviour,” her lawyer, Mark Quigley, said.
Ms Jafa-Bodden also said Choudhury sexually harassed and inappropriately touched her, and tried to get her to stay with him in a hotel suite.
Choudhury, 69, has built an empire around Bikram yoga, a rigorous, 90-minute routine performed in a room at temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius).
The technique is taught at 650 studios worldwide and has a throng of devoted followers, including celebrities.
Choudhury claims he is now nearly bankrupt.
Ms Jafa-Bodden’s wrongful termination action is separate from sexual assault lawsuits filed by six other women, five of whom accuse Choudhury of rape.
One of those lawsuits is being settled, while the rest are set for trial later this year.
Choudhury’s lawyers have said he never sexually assaulted any of the women suing him and that prosecutors had declined to bring charges in their cases.
But Mary Shea, one of the lawyers representing the women filing the assault lawsuits, said prosecutors never investigated the claims and just because charges were not filed did not mean the women were not telling the truth.
“These are all very brave women, who’ve had the courage to stand up against very serious opposition and public scrutiny,” she said.
“If anything, this (verdict) has given them the confidence to go forward and speak their truth.”
In October, Choudhury lost an appeal to copyright his sequence of 26 yoga poses and two breathing exercises.
The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that because the sequence used in hot yoga classes was intended to improve people’s health, it was not covered by copyright law.
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