Bikram yoga founder ordered to pay $7.4 million
(CNN) — Yoga guru Bikram Choudhury has been ordered to pay a former employee about $7.4 million in punitive and compensatory damages, prosecutors have announced.
In her retaliation and wrongful termination lawsuit, Minakshi “Miki” Jafa-Bodden claimed she was fired for refusing to cover up an investigation into another woman’s allegation that Choudhury raped her. She also testified that she was the victim of sexual harassment.
A Los Angeles Superior Court reportedly awarded Jafa-Bodden $6,471,878 in punitive damages and $924,000 in compensatory damages.
“It’s about time somebody stood up to this defendant and it’s too bad it took a jury,” plaintiff attorney Mark Quigley said in a statement.
Choudhury, who denies wrongdoing, has experienced an incredible fall from grace.
The signature “hot yoga” bearing his name drew throngs of devotees, spawning studios teaching the practice all over the world. He became a spiritual leader and celebrity icon with a long list of famous followers and friends.
But the Bikram brand is in jeopardy, with some yoga studios dropping his name after the guru was accused of rape and sexual assault by former students.
At least five women have sued Choudhury for sexual harassment and sexual assault.
His lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday, but Choudhury denied the allegations during an interview with CNN last year.
“I want to show you,” he said, “tell the truth to the world, that I never assaulted them.”
Choudhury repeatedly denied sexually assaulting anyone, saying he would never resort to physical aggression to have sex because he has so many offers.
“Women like me. Women love me,” he said. “So if I really wanted to involve the women, I don’t have to assault the women.”
He said he feels sorry for his accusers, claiming they’ve been manipulated by lawyers to lie.
“I have nothing against them. I don’t think they’re bad people. It’s not them saying that,” he said. “They are influenced by somebody.”