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Sacked legal adviser wins £4.5m damages from Bikram yoga founder

Published 27/01/2016

Bikram Choudhury leading a yoga class at the Los Angeles Convention Centre in 2003 (AP)
Bikram Choudhury leading a yoga class at the Los Angeles Convention Centre in 2003 (AP)

The founder of Bikram yoga has been ordered to pay nearly 6.5 million dollars (£4.5m) 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 dollars (£646,000) compensation that Bikram Choudhury must pay to Minakshi "Miki" Jafa-Bodden, bringing the total award to about 7.4 million dollars (£5.1m).

"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 that can reach more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). The technique is taught at more than 650 studios worldwide and has drawn 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 raping them. One of those lawsuits is in the process of 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."

Choudhury experienced another major court loss in October when he 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 a process intended to improve people's health, it was not covered by copyright law.

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