Developer of yoga method said to sexually harass students, fires his own lawyer when she tries to stop him.
- Case Name: Jafa-Bodden v. Choudhury
- Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court / BC512041
- Date of Verdict or Judgment: Monday, January 25, 2016
- Date Action was Filed: Wednesday, June 19, 2013
- Type of Case: Civil Rights, Discrimination, Sexual, Employment, Sexual Harassment, Wrongful Termination
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Mark Mooney
Plaintiffs: Minakshi "Micki" Jafa Bodden, 45, attorney
Defendants: Bikram Choudhury, Bikram's Yoga College of India, Bikram Inc., Bikram Choudhury Yoga Inc.
- Type of Result: Jury Verdict
- Gross Verdict or Award: $7,396,432
- Trial or Arbitration Time: 3 weeks.
- Jury Deliberation Time: 2 days.
- Jury Polls: Unanimous.
- Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: Motion for fees and costs hearing is set for March 25th.
Attorney for the Plaintiff:
The Minnard Law Firm by Carla Minnard, Oakland.
Greene Broillet & Wheeler by Mark Quigley and Aaron Osten, Santa Monica.
Attorney for the Defendant:
Tafoya & Garcia by Robert Tafoya, Los Angeles.
Albright Yee & Schmidt by Lucien Schmit, Los Angeles.
Valle Makoff LLP by Susan Klein, Los Angeles.
Plaintiff’s Medical Experts: None.
Defendant's Medical Experts: None.
Plaintiff's Technical Experts: None.
Defendant's Technical Experts: None.
Facts and Background
Facts and Background:
Plaintiff, a lawyer, was recruited from India, hired and brought to Los Angeles to work as Head of Legal & International Affairs for defendant Bikram Choudhury. Defendant had developed and popularized a type of yoga performed in a very hot studio.
Shortly after she arrived in Los Angeles, a lawsuit was filed against Choudhury (Pandhora Williams v. Choudhury) which alleged gender discrimination and race discrimination that allegedly took place during her Teacher Training course. Teacher Training is a 9-week course that Bikram Choudhury conducts, twice a year, at a cost of $12,500 per student. The typical enrollment for each Training was about 400-500 students/trainees, and according to Bikram, nobody was permitted to teach "his yoga" without first paying for and attending his Teacher Training. The Training was often held at the LAX Radisson.
The Williams case was being defended by outside counsel for Choudhury, Robert Gilchrest. As part of her job, plaintiff often sat in on depositions in the Williams case.
Tensions between plaintiff and defendant escalated and her employment was later terminated.
Plaintiff claimed that she was sexually harassed and wrongfully terminated for objecting to gender discrimination, sexual harassment (of herself and other women) and for attempting to investigate and bring to light serious sexual abuse and misconduct by Bikram Choudhury, which had been going on for years and which had been covered up for years by many people, including his own wife.
Further, that while she sat in on depositions in the Williams case, she began to hear testimony from witnesses that was extremely concerning and disturbing, including allegations that Bikram Choudhury had raped female students and trainees during Teacher Training. She attempted to investigate those allegations.
First, she began attending and observing Choudhury's conduct at Teacher Training herself. Consistent with what the witnesses were saying in deposition, she observed conduct that she felt was extremely inappropriate, including Choudhury having female students and staff brush his hair and massage him. She also heard Choudhury make highly offensive and derogatory remarks about women. She told Choudhury he could not make such remarks and told him to stop engaging in inappropriate conduct with female trainees.
In response, she claims he told her to mind her own f***ing business. She then sought help from outside counsel Robert Gilchrest and, together with him, met with Choudhury to admonish him not to engage in this conduct.
Plaintiff claims that Choudhury responded by stating "I do what the f**k I want." At the same time, other complaints (unrelated to the Williams litigation) were also being made (including written complaints) about Bikram Choudhury's inappropriate sexual conduct with women. Plaintiff also attempted to investigate those allegations, including interviewing staff and witnesses.
She also went to Rajashree Choudhury, who was not only Bikram's wife, but also the Vice President and her supervisor. Plaintiff claims that Mrs. Choudhury made it clear to plaintiff that she was aware of Bikram's conduct with female staff and trainees, but did not care, and was not going to do anything to prevent it. Rajashree Choudhury at first told her not to "rock the boat" and "let him have his girls." Later, Mrs. Choudhury became more pointed in her threats to plaintiff, telling her that it would not be good for her if she made Bikram angry and that she should "think of her daughter."
Plaintiff then attempted to go to Choudhury's senior staff and institute the rule that no female trainees, students or staff were to be left alone in Choudhury's room under any circumstances.
Plaintiff contended that when Choudhury learned plaintiff had done this, he began aggressively retaliating against her, physically threatening her and her young daughter. He told plaintiff he would kill her, and he threatened to have her and her daughter deported and "taken care of" back in India.
Plaintiff contended that, shortly after she was fired, she was kicked out of her apartment, her car was taken away, her garage broken into and her visa revoked.
Defendant denied plaintiff's allegations of harassment.
Defendants claimed that plaintiff was not really employed by Bikram Choudhury but was employed by an Indian Law Firm (Fox Mandal) and they also claimed that plaintiff lied about being licensed to practice law in California and that is why she was fired.
Injuries and Other Damages
Plaintiff claimed emotional distress as a result of the death threats and harassment.
Demands and Offers
- Plaintiff §998 Demand: None.
- Plaintiff Final Demand before Trial: None.
- Plaintiff Demand during Trial: None.
- Defendant §998 Offer: None.
- Defendant Final Offer before Trial: None.
- Defendant Offer during Trial: None.