One of the most successful yoga gurus in the world — the founder of Bikram yoga — will now have to pay more than $7 million in damages to his former lawyer after a Los Angeles jury determined he sexually harassed and ultimately fired her unfairly.
“I feel vindicated, I’m elated,” Minakshi "Miki" Jafa-Bodden told ABC News' “Nightline” in an interview Tuesday night.
Bikram Choudhury was ordered to pay nearly $6.5 million in punitive damages in addition to $924,000 in compensatory damages to Jafa-Bodden, who was general counsel to Bikram’s Yoga College of India.
“My professional relationship ended when I was fired by Mr. Choudhury,” Jafa-Bodden said.
She convinced the jury that the 69-year-old guru repeatedly sexually harassed her and subjected her to obscene comments about women. She also claimed she was fired after she tried to investigate another woman’s sexual harassment and rape allegations against him.
“Perhaps the first one or two surprised me, but after I began to see a pattern, they no longer surprised me, I’m sad to say,” she said.
Six former students and employees have claimed he sexually assaulted them. “Nightline” spoke to three of the women in 2014, one of whom, Larissa Anderson, told “Nightline” she felt “speechless” because she saw Bikram as a “father figure.”
Accuser Sarah Baughn told “Nightline” at the time, “Someone can look him in the eye and say ‘no,’ and it doesn’t matter,”
“I said, ‘Please don’t, you’re a guru. The world believes in you,’” another accuser told “Nightline.” “He said, ‘I’m just a man.’”
When “Nightline” first interviewed Bikram in 2012, it was before any of these allegations had surfaced in court. But already there had been rumors of inappropriate contact with students.
When asked about that, Bikram told “Nightline” at the time, “The hardest problem in my life ... is to stay away from women. Women like me, and I have to run, city after city, country after country, all my life to stay away from the women.”
During the interview, he denied ever having any sexual contact with his students or followers.
“Every women loves me,” Bikram said. “You know, president’s daughter, you know, prime minister’s daughter, you know, billionaire’s daughter, super star, actress, singers, but yogi is supposed to be yogi. They cannot involve with the women.”
During the trial over Jafa-Bodden’s allegations, Bikram strongly denied sexually assaulting any of the women.
One of the accusers, Larissa Anderson, told “Nightline” she was assaulted in Bikram’s mansion while his wife and kids were sleeping upstairs.
“It didn’t last very long,” she said. “He didn’t use protection. He stood up, put his shorts back on, and went back into the other room, and sat down on the couch like nothing happened.”
Authorities in Los Angeles have declined to press criminal charges in any of the women’s alleged claims. The women are bringing civil suits on their own.
Bikram’s wife of 31 years, Rajashri Choudhury, has since filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. Petra Stark, the former president of Bikram’s company, has resigned as well and is filing her own lawsuit. At stake is Bikram’s yoga empire, potentially worth millions.
Bikram was one of the pioneers of yoga in the United States, setting up shop in Beverly Hills in the 1970s. His clients list is a who’s who of the rich and famous. Now his yoga studios are franchised worldwide, a booming business he’s proud of.
Back in 2012, he showed “Nightline” his car collection of Bentleys and Rolls-Royces. But in court, Bikram testified that his legal problems have taken a serious toll on his finances, putting him on the brink of bankruptcy. He told the court his car collection now belongs to the state of California. He testified that he intended his collection to become a Bikram auto engineering school for children so kids could learn about cars.
For Bikram’s alleged victims, the jury’s decision this week is a victory, and the women who spoke to “Nightline” will all have their day in court later this year when their trials begin.