Monday, February 1, 2016

YOGA GURU TO PAY SEXUAL ASSAULT VICTIMS $6.4 MILLION IN DAMAGES

Los Angeles jury on Tuesday awarded more than $6.4 million in the first of a series of lawsuits against renowned yoga guru Bikram Choudhury in which women accuse the founder of the popular Bikram yoga style of sexual misconduct.

The verdict marks a significant financial and legal blow to Choudhury, who claimed millions of followers in a global empire centered around “hot yoga,” performed in sweltering rooms.

The case involved a lawsuit by his onetime legal advisor, Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, who alleged that Choudhury sexually harassed her while she worked for him and that she was fired after she began investigating claims that he had raped a yoga student. Six other women in recent years have filed civil lawsuits accusing Choudhury of sexually assaulting them.

Choudhury has denied any wrongdoing, and Los Angeles County prosecutors decided not to file criminal charges in several cases, saying there was no corroborating evidence.

The Beverly Hills resident testified Tuesday that he has spent millions of dollars on legal bills in recent years and that his Los Angeles-based yoga business has waned, leaving him nearly bankrupt.

“I have to borrow money from my family and friends,” he told jurors. “I have no money.”

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Under cross-examination, Choudhury admitted keeping a fleet of up to 40 luxury cars — including Bentleys, Ferraris and Rolls-Royces — in a Van Nuys garage. He said he gave the vehicles to the state to start a school, the “Bikram auto engineering school for children.” The remarks drew smirks and laughs from several jurors. A spokeswoman for the governor told The Times no such agreement exists.

Tuesday’s award of punitive damages came on top of more than $924,500 that jurors awarded Jafa-Bodden in compensatory damages Monday.

“I feel vindicated, I'm elated,” Jafa-Bodden said after the verdict, describing Choudhury as “a dangerous, dangerous predator.”

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