Wow, you guys, this is some serious and disturbing stuff. And it just keeps coming. Have we reached the tipping point? As we already know, Mr. Choudhury’s legal troubles are so far from over. In fact, there seems to be no end in sight. We’ve been alerted to a lawsuit filed by Bikram’s own former Head of Legal and International Affairs, Minakshi “Micki” Jafa-Bodden, against Bikram and all the Bikram entities claiming an exhaustive list of complaints that include sexual harassment, gender discrimination, assault , defamation, negligence, breach of contract…and the list goes on, 25 items of complaint for damages in total.
Jafa-Bodden served as Head of Legal and International Affairs from Spring 2011 to March 13, 2013 when she claims she was “abruptly and unlawfully terminated,” according to the court documents filed on July 12, 2013 in the Superior Court of California, Los Angeles. But perhaps the more serious matters lie within the 2 years that Jafa-Bodden worked closely with Bikram, during which she claims she was victim and witness to Bikram’s “severe, ongoing, pervasive and offensive conduct” especially to women, as well as homosexuals, African Americans and basically every other minority.
The complaint is the fourth sex-based discrimination/sexual harassment/rape related suit filed this year against Bikram Choudhury. Bikram teacher Sarah Baughn filed a sexual harassment suit in March (just before Jafa-Bodden was fired), and two other unnamed women filed similar suits in May accusing Bikram of sexual harassment, intimidation and rape.
If all of this is true, Bikram is getting the sweaty carpet pulled way out from under him, and his empire. Can the yoga be separated from the man?
Here’s the the full “Summary of Facts & Claims” we converted from the official court documents. The complaint can be found in its entirety below.
She was offered and accepted a three-year contract with a starting annual salary of $125,000.00. (Exhibit B hereto is a true and correct copy of Bikram Choudhury’s August 2011 offer letter).
In March 2011, Plaintiff relocated her home and her young daughter from Delhi, India in to Los Angeles, California to serve as Head of Legal and International Affairs for Bikram Choudhury and the Bikram entities.
Despite the promise and contract to pay a starting annual salary of $125,000.00, Defendants failed to pay Plaintiff as agreed.
From almost the beginning of her employment Plaintiff was subject to severe, ongoing, pervasive and offensive conduct by Defendant Bikram Choudhury. Such conduct included, among other things:
- Bikram Choudhury repeatedly referring to women, including female employees and others as “bitches,” “fucking bitches,” “fat bitches” and “stupid bitches;”
- Bikram Choudhury repeatedly made offensive and vulgar sexual gestures including placing his fingers in a circle and inserting the fingers of his other hand into them, simulating intercourse; licking his fingers, sticking his fingers in the air and licking them, simulating oral sex;
- Bikram Choudhury repeatedly made disparaging remarks about single mothers, including myself, and stated to a co-worker “make sure we don’t hire single women with kids in the future;”
- Bikram Choudhury created a hyper-sexualized, offensive and degrading environment for women by, among other things, demanding that female staffers brush his hair and give him massages. Plaintiff was often required to conduct business meetings with Bikram Choudhury while he was receiving such massages. Plaintiff was on a number of occasions required to meet Bikram Choudhury in his hotel room typically at night. During one such meeting, Bikram Choudhury climbed into bed, and patted the bedspread next to him (indicating to Plaintiff to come and sit/lie down next to him in the bed). Plaintiff moved away from Choudhury and the bed and went and sat at a desk to conduct a telephone conference.
- Bikram Choudhury frequently leered at female staffers and others, and often stared at and remarked on their physical attributes, including stating such offensive comments as “that bitch is too skinny,” or — to Plaintiff’s assistant “you look good sweetheart but what shall we do about her [gesturing to Plaintiff] she is still too fat.”
- Bikram Choudhury made outrageous and offensive comments about homosexuals, including “AIDS is caused by gays, it is the truth,” and “but these fucking asshole guys love me, they love Bikram;”
- Bikram Choudhury made outrageous and offensive comments about African Americans, including “these blacks just don’t get my yoga;” He also targeted African American studio owners and students, treating them differently than non-African American owners/students.
- Bikram Choudhury made outrageous and offensive comments about Jewish people, including saying Hitler had the right idea, but that he “was just not eflicient enough. If he was more efficient, all these fucking Jews would be finished;”
- Bikram Choudhury frequently brought his mistress to the workplace and flaunted her, despite the fact that he knew this made me extremely uncomfortable given my close relationship with his wife, Rajashree Choudhury. Bikram Choudhury pressured Plaintiff into secretly purchasing a property in Hawaii for his mistress.
- Bikrarn Choudhury repeatedly to female yoga studio owners as “bitches;” and referred to one particular female studio owner in Los Angeles as “that fucking stupid Korean bitch;”
- Bikram Choudhury often would call for young women yoga students/trainees to be brought up to his hotel room. When Plaintiff objected to this practice out of concern for the safety and security of the young women, she was retaliated against and pushed out of Bikram Choudhury’s “inner circle.” One such example of Bikram Choudhury’s predatory and illegal behavior took place during the Spring 2012 Teacher Training in Los Angeles at the Radisson Hotel. One young female trainee asked for permission to go home because she felt intimidated and shocked by the sexually charged atmosphere. One of Bikram’s senior staffers refused to let her leave, telling her that she must FIRST go to Bikram’s hotel room that night and talk to him. Once Plaintiff learned of this, she immediately instructed staff that this was not permissible or appropriate and that it must never happen again.
- Bikram Choudhury also permitted and encouraged his male friends from overseas to treat his female staff and students as if they were chattels there for his and his friend’s enjoyment, sexual gratification and pleasure.
- Bikram Choudhm’y also pressured the foregoing is just a sample of Defendant Bikram Choudhury’s improper, illegal, wrongful conduct, and not an exhaustive list.
Plaintiff attempted to investigate an incident that was reported by a female student seeking readmission to the Fall 2012 Teacher Training, which involved her claim that she had been raped at an earlier Training (Plaintiff believes Spring 2012) and had been sent home. Plaintiff was told to stay out of it and not investigate.
Plaintiff also attempted to investigate the mistreatment of another female student trainee at the Fall 2012 Teacher Training by a friend of Bikram Choudhury’s and another male trainee. During that investigation, Plaintiff withheld the male trainee’s teaching certificate pending the outcome of the investigation. When Bikram Choudhury found out that Plaintiff was investigating the incident and had withheld the male trainees’ certificate, Bikram angrily demanded that Plaintiff stop her investigation and give him his certificate, stating “those boys didn’t do nothing to that stupid girl.”
Another female staffer reported to Plaintiff that a female trainee in Acapulco reported that Bikram had done something “of a sexual nature” to her during that training.
Thereafier, Plaintiff was later told that it was “resolved” and that it was “best” if she “not look into it any further.”
When former CEO Mark Sacks was fired, all of his duties were pushed onto Plaintiff, with no additional compensation or assistance.
Plaintiff also was treated in an offensive and threatening way by Bikram Choudhury’s driver, Sando Panday. As but one example of this, when Plaintiff instructed Panday that the temperature in the yoga room must not exceed 105 degree Fahrenheit (which had reached 120 degrees on numerous occasions which caused complaints and created a dangerous and unsafe condition for those in the room), Panday screamed at “Bikram said to tell you to mind your own fucking business.” Plaintiff complained about this attack to Rajashree Choudhury and to another individual. Nothing was done, and Plaintiff was further marginalized and retaliated against for dan’ng to question Bikram Choudhury.
In or about February, 2012, Bikram Choudhury’s conduct, harassment, discrimination and retaliation escalated, and Bikram threatened to have Plaintiff put in jail because he was apparently displeased with the way she handled an endorsement deal (which he later then complimented Plaintiff on, saying it was a great business deal for him and requested repeatedly that Plaintiff “put the water deal back together.”)
In Summer 2012, when Plaintiff explained to Bikram Choudhury that he was compelled by a Court to present himself for a deposition, he yelled at her and berated her stating “I am famous. Famous people don’t do fucking depositions” and he referred to Plaintiffs lawyer in that case as “that fucking bitch.”
In or about November, 2012, Defendant Petra Starke first began appearing and getting involved in the Bikram entities business dealings and attending business meetings. Plaintiff questioned whether this was not a conflict of interest and potentially illegal conduct given that Ms. Starke was then employed by the US. Government as White House Counsel. Plaintiffs concerns were ignored.
Plaintiff believes, and on that basis alleges, that Defendant Petra Starke was engaged in the business and business dealings of Bikram Choudhury and the Bikram entities at the same time she was employed by the US. Government as Counsel to the White House.
Numerous documents and records, including telephone records and electronic communications, show this involvement. Plaintiff believed that this was ethically improper and possibly criminal conduct and expressed her concerns to Defendants but those concerns were ignored.
Defendant Bikram Choudhury also engaged in physically intimidating and threatening conduct, including pointing his finger in the shape of a gun and demonstrating like he was shooting Plaintiff.
Defendant Rajashree Choudhury (an Officer of various Bikram Entity Defendants named herein) knew that much of this abusive, illegal, threatening, harassing and discriminatory conduct was taking place but she did nothing to prevent or curtail it. She also knew that young female yoga trainees and students were potential victims of her husband
Bikram Choudhury and endangered by his presence, and in fact discussed that very subject with Plaintiff, but she did nothing whatsoever to prevent or restrain her husband.
During the course of coordinating the defense of Bikram Choudhury and the Bikram entities in other lawsuits, Plaintifi‘ kept Bikram Choudhury up to date on the litigation and status. At one such time, when Plaintiff informed Bikram Choudhury that a witness had testified in a manner that was unhelpful to him and was “against” him, Bikram demanded that Plaintiff contact the witness and intimated that she should be pressured to keep quiet. When Plaintiff refused, Bikram became angry and fin’ther retaliated against Plaintiff.
Defendant Bikram Choudhury also made threatening statements about a Federal Court Judge who issued a ruling that was unfavorable to Bikram Choudhury and the Bikram entities. Defendant Bikrarn Choudhury made references to having the Judge “taken out” and “removed,” and “fixed.” Bikram Choudhury stated – in the presence of witnesses including Rajashree Choudhury and Petra Starke that he would “handle [the Judge] his own way.”
Defendant Bikram Choudhury also directed Plaintiff to begin a smear campaign against a male studio owner that he was involved in a lawsuit with. Bikram Choudhury told Plaintiff that she needed to accuse that studio owner of sexual misconduct, including being a “rapist.” Plaintiff refused and the retaliation against her continued to escalate.
When Plaintiff told Bikram Choudhury that certain of his “marketing” materials likely constituted false advertising, she was further retaliated against.
At or about the end of 2012, in or about November, Plaintifi‘ complained to Rajashree Choudhury that Bikram Choudhury was becoming more and more abusive.
Defendant Rajashree Choudhury stated that Bikram was telling people that Plaintiff was “having an affair” with one of the attorneys she had retained to do work defending Bikram and the Bikram entities.
Also at or near the end of 2012, Plaintiff became increasingly vocal about the fact that she was not being paid as agreed upon despite the fact that she had been working for almost 2 years.
All of the retaliation, harassment and discrimination against Plaintiff came to a head on March 15‘, 2013, when she was terminated. The afternoon of March 15‘, 2013, Plaintiff was told by Bikram that she could not go home early that day (she normally went and picked her daughter up from school which Bikram knew). At approximately 6:00 pm, Plaintiff was summoned to Bikram Choudhury’s office by Defendant Petra Starke. During that meeting, Plaintiff was told “we have decided to terminate you immediately,” and “we will withdraw your green card sponsorship.” She was then told that she could either resign immediately, or be fired. During this “meeting” Bikram Choudhury accused Plaintiff of having a sexual relationship with one of the attorneys hired to defend Bikram and the Bikram entities (Robert Gilchrest), and Bikram made a sexual gesture stating that Plaintiff and “Bob” were “closer than husband and wife.” Plaintiff stated that she did not want to resign. Plaintiff was again told that if she did not resign immediately, right then, she would be terminated and that it “would be very bad for her.” The entire environment was extremely hostile and threatening, and Plaintiff feared for her own safety as well as the safety of her daughter. She was then ordered to go to her “room” and type her resignation letter. Plaintiff stated that she would hand write it, which she did, handing it to Petra Starke.
Shortly after she was terminated/forced to resign, Defendants evicted Plaintifi’ from her home and repossessed her car without her knowledge or permission.
The Bikram entity defendants, and individual defendants knew or should have known about Bikram Choudhury’s propensity to engage in discriminatory and harassing conduct against women. In fact, the subject of the risk posed to young girls by Bikram
Choudhury was specifically discussed with and known to his wife, Defendant Rajashree Choudhury. Defendant Rajashree Choudhury asked Plaintiff to keep Bikram Choudhury away from a yoga competition being held in New York in 2013 (as well as in prior years) because of a concern for the safety and well being of the young girls if Bikram Choudhury were permitted to be around them.
Defendants Petra Starke and Rajashree Choudhury engaged in a civil conspiracy with Bikram Choudhury and others to keep Bikram Choudhury’s illegal conduct from being discovered and in an effort to retaliate against anyone who attempted to speak up against it or bring it to light. Defendant Bikram Choudhury and other defendants have engaged in a campaign of civil conspiracy that began when Plaintifi‘ objected to illegal conduct and when
Plaintiff attempted to uncover the truth of various allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against Bikram Choudhury.
As a direct consequence of these unlawful acts, Plaintiff has suffered economic, consequential, and other damages, all to her detriment. Defendants’ actions forced Plaintiff to hire attorneys and file suit and she, therefore, has incurred and will continue to incur substantial attorneys fees and costs.
As summary and collection of Bikram’s legal woes and documents can be found here.