Hot yoga founder, Bikram Choudhury, to pay millions after losing sexual harassment case.
Bikram Choudhury owes $6.7 million to the former head of his company’s legal team, Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, after the jury found he sexually harassed and wrongfully terminated Ms. Jafa-Bodden.
Hot yoga, the popular exercise practice which involves simply doing yoga in a really hot room, brought fame and fortune to the India born yogi Bikram Choudhury. Bikram moved to California in the 1970s where he quickly began catering to Hollywood’s biggest A-list celebrities. Since then, he has created a world-wide yoga empire. Recently, however, a Los Angeles court decided that Choudhury is on the losing end of a $6.7 million judgment. Minakshi Jafa-Bodden was awarded just about everything the yogi owned, including his forty-three luxury car collection. The problem is, no one can find these cars.
The former head of Bikram Yoga’s legal team, Minakshi Jafa-Bodden left her career in international litigation with a London law firm to work for Bikram Yoga in 2011. The Daily Mail quoted Miss Jafa-Bodden as stating that it was her dream job to work for the Bikram empire. The years Jafa-Bodden served as head of the Bikram legal team would prove to be far from dream-worthy.
“Such a simple concept has proved appealing enough to attract Hollywood stars and create a multi-million-dollar yoga franchise.”
Choudhury was born in Calcutta, India, but moved to California in the 1970’s to sell his innovative style of yoga called Bikram yoga, a variant of hot-yoga. The exercise is simple, wildly popular, and most likely not as effective of a workout as people would expect. The program involves gathering in a furnace-like studio and doing various yoga poses for ninety minutes. Such a simple concept has proved appealing enough to attract Hollywood stars and create a multi-million-dollar yoga franchise.
Choudhury’s business plan involved charging students thousands of dollars to become Bikram Yoga teachers and then licensing out franchises around the world, charging fees to use his name, and collecting royalties along the way. Choudhury’s yoga attracted A-list celebrities like Madonna and David Beckham, and attained a cult-like following in the Los Angeles area.
“Choudhury’s abusive and demeaning conduct was aimed directly to Jafa-Bodden, as well as indirectly through his actions and speech towards his students and employees.”
According to Jafa-Bodden, the increased wealth and power of Choudhury led to him acting like a man “drunk on power,” boasting about the number of women begging to sleep with him and proclaiming that a single drop of his sperm is worth one-million dollars. While working as the head of the Bikram Yoga legal team, Jafa-Bodden noticed there were many allegations of rape and assault directed toward Choudhury. In response to many of these allegations, Choudhury apparently told Jafa-Bodden to “fix these women,” but when she refused, he became abusive. Choudhury’s abusive and demeaning conduct was aimed directly to Jafa-Bodden, as well as indirectly through his actions and speech towards his students and employees. If it were not such a blatant, real abuse of power, Choudhury’s actions would almost seem comically fictitious.
Jafa-Bodden describes Choudhury’s lectures as a practice that only seems conceivable in some low-budget film involving a Caligula-like antagonist and too much nudity. Jafa-Bodden claims that during the lectures, Choudury would sit at a throne at the front of a large room filled with students. At the start of the lecture his throne would descend to the level of the audience and multiple girls would be summoned to massage him as he spoke to the crowd. One can only picture a tyrannical king being fed grapes in front his court. Unlike Hollywood films, though, this awful practice actually occurred. Choudhury took advantage of the students who saw him as a spiritual leader, targeting the most vulnerable of those who misplaced their love with him.
“The environment Choudhury created was hyper-sexualized and beyond degrading to women.”
Jafa-Bodden filed a sexual harassment and wrongful termination suit against Choudhury in 2013. According to Jafa-Bodden’s complaint, from the beginning of her employment she was subjected to “severe, ongoing, pervasive, and offensive conduct by the defendant, Choudhury.” This conduct included, among other things, Choudhury repeatedly referring to women in vulgar and demeaning ways, often making offensive gestures such as using his fingers to imitate intercourse. The environment Choudhury created was hyper-sexualized and beyond degrading to women.
There actually may not be a single group of people that Choudhury did not make grossly disparaging remarks about. The ‘yogi of the stars’ seems to have enjoyed targeting African American studio owners, sympathizing with Hitler’s actions (going so far as to wish he had been more efficient), and making outrageous claims about AIDS being caused by homosexuals.
The list of complaints for damages is so disturbingly extensive that it is shocking Choudhury avoided such a large judgment until now. In January, 2016, after a twelve-day trial resulting in Jafa-Bodden’s favor, a jury awarded Jafa-Bodden $6.4 million in punitive damages and nearly $1 million in compensatory damages for the harassment she experienced while working at Choudhury’s Los Angeles headquarters. The jury also found in Jafa-Bodden’s favor with respect to her unlawful termination claim. They found that her complaints to management regarding the ongoing sexual-harassment and gender discrimination had been the reason for her termination. In total, considering the interest gained and attorney’s fees, Jafa-Bodden is owed roughly $6.7 million.
“Not surprisingly, after the trial verdict, Choudury refused to pay any of the award and fled the United States to India where he apparently remains today.”
Not surprisingly, after the trial verdict, Choudury refused to pay any of the award and fled the United States to India where he apparently remains today. On December 13, 2016, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark A. Borenstein approved Jafa-Bodden’s request to divert to her the income Choudhury receives from agreements made with vendors, yoga studio franchise agreements, and royalties based on his trademark, copyrights, and other intellectual property. The court also granted a charging order to give Jafa-Bodden her former employer’s ownership interest in the Bikram Yoga College of India. Of particular interest here is the Judge’s signing off on the appointment of forty-three luxury vehicles allegedly owned by Choudhury which have now, like Choudhury himself, gone missing.
According to Jalopnik and The Daily Mail, forty-three very expensive cars have vanished from a California garage Choudhury owned. Judge Borenstein’s order prohibits seaports or anyone in possession of the vehicles from transporting the cars from the garage, making this a clear violation of the court order. The garage manager, allegedly a friend of Choudhury’s, was summoned by the court to explain why the cars are not in the garage. While the manager claims ignorance as to the location of the luxury fleet, Jafa-Bodden’s lawyers claim to have photographic evidence of him being involved with their removal.
“While the valuation of these vehicles has not been determined, because no one knows the total and accurate extent of the collection, it is likely that the value is easily in the millions of dollars.”
Among the forty-three cars are reportedly “thirteen Rolls-Royces, eight Bentleys, and three Ferraris.” Indiawest claims that also among the collection are five Mercedes Benzes and two Jaguars. While the valuation of these vehicles has not been determined, because no one knows the total and accurate extent of the collection, it is likely that the value is easily in the millions of dollars.
Jafa-Bodden desperately needs these cars to be found so she can move on with her life. Jaffa-Bodden has stated, “I started off working for him and I ended up with his company. In a million years I never imagined that would be the outcome. Now I want to sell what we can so I can get my money and move on with my life.” And that is exactly what Miss Jafa-Bodden deserves. Those on the winning side of a lawsuit, especially cases involving sexual misconduct, are rarely ever made whole, but finding these cars would certainly help.