WASHINGTON– After ordering celebrity yoga guru Bikram Choudhury to pay $924,500 in compensatory damages in a lawsuit for sexually harassing and firing a female employee, a US court has told Choudhury to pay $6.47 million in punitive damages.
Plaintiff Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, Choudhury’s former legal adviser, said in the lawsuit that he inappropriately touched her and wrongfully fired her in 2013 after she began probing sexual abuse claims from other women.
“I feel elated and vindicated,” Jafa-Bodden told the New York Daily News after the Tuesday verdict that was handed down by a Los Angeles jury consisting of six women and three men.
Meanwhile, 69-year-old Choudhury, Kolkata-born founder of Bikram Yoga – a form of hot yoga – testified that he is “almost bankrupt”.
Choudhury told jurors he had no income at all last year and his collection of more than 30 luxury cars has been promised to California Governor Jerry Brown for a children’s school dedicated to automotive engineering.
Jafa-Bodden filed her lawsuit in 2013 claiming Choudhury sexually harassed her with a barrage of misogynistic comments and threatened her and her daughter’s lives when she raised questions about sexual abuse claims brought by numerous women.
Jafa-Bodden testified earlier in the trial that Choudhury made her life a living hell after she moved to the US from India to act as his personal lawyer.
In one dramatic account, she said Choudhury ran his finger across his throat when she asked about accusations he sexually assaulted a teacher during a training programme in Acapulco.
In his closing argument on Tuesday, one of Jafa-Bodden’s lawyers, Mark Quigley, called Choudhury’s treatment of women “shocking”.
He highlighted trial testimony from the former White House lawyer who worked for Choudhury after Jafa-Bodden and filed her own wrongful termination lawsuit in August.
The lawyer, Petra Starke, told jurors earlier this month that Choudhury presided over a “crazy” work environment with a “sexually charged atmosphere”, Quigley was quoted as saying.
Choudhury gained fame by popularising his sweat lodge-style yoga system which uses a 26-pose routine in a room heated to nearly 38 degree Celsius or more.
Starke testified that she instituted strict sexual harassment policies and training when she took over as CEO and was shocked when she later witnessed Choudhury receiving oral sex from a teaching student in a limo, Quigley said.
The yoga guru also is facing lawsuits by several other women who claim he sexually assaulted or raped them.
Choudhury’s lawyers, however, say their client is innocent and that prosecutors declined to bring criminal charges in connection with the women’s claims.