A new lawsuit claims Bikram Choudhury repeatedly sexually assaulted, raped, and harassed a female yoga teacher over the course of several years. The suit, filed Friday, February 13, 2015, makes it the sixth formal complaint against Choudhury involving sexual abuse and/or rape.
We just reported yesterday a judge ruled that Bikram would have to face almost all of the accusations related to a 2013 suit brought against him involving a teacher trainee (Jane Doe No. 2) and the case is awaiting a date for trial. The judge ruled that Choudhury and his company, Bikram’s Yoga College of India LP, would face sexual battery, gender violence, false imprisonment along with five other claims.
The details of this new suit, filed by Jill Lawler, are not too dissimilar; allegations include sexual harassment, gender violence, sex-based discrimination. In fact, they make the state of affairs even more grisly. Lawler alleges that Choudhury used his position of power to exact control, to make her perform massages and engage with him in sexual acts, and when she refused, he raped her, the suit says. Lawler claims she became financially dependent on Bikram who made threats to decertify her and kick her out of the Bikram circle if she would not comply with his commands.
Lawler was 18 when she began her Bikram teacher training, three years younger than the requirement, but she was accepted after writing a heartfelt letter to Bikram Choudhury himself, it states in the suit. Bikram allegedly took advantage of Lawler’s youth, vulnerability and lack of experience. She knew all teacher trainees are powerless, exhausted and suffering from sleep deprivation, Lawler states in the suit, and are told to “trust the process” no questions asked.
Via the report on Law360.com:
…she first chalked up her discomfort over the massages to cultural differences, but then, she said, Choudhury put his hand down her pants in public.
“You are so beautiful, I felt drunk while you were massaging me,” Choudhury said according to the suit. “I couldn’t control myself.”
Despite Choudhury’s apology, he soon asked her to massage him higher and higher on his thigh, eventually pushing her to touch him in a sexual manner.
“Felling that she had no choice, in her weakened, exhausted and sleep-deprived state, she gave in to defendant Bikram Choudhury’s physical and financial coercion,” the complaint said.
In another incident during training, he took Lawler up to his hotel room and allegedly made more lewd sexual advances. When she refused, the suit alleges he raped her. After the training classes, Lawler alleges Choudhury continued to seek her out for sex, and one occasion flew her out to Los Angeles before assaulting her.
The suit states that Choudhury said many things to try and coerce Lawler into sexual acts like, “God wants us to be together” and “If you don’t have sex with me, I will die.”
Though the statute of limitations for sexual assault would have already been up, Lawler’s attorneys argue in the lawsuit that the case should stand because the abuse forced Lawler into severe debt and emotional duress due to Bikram’s threats of violence. Deeply entangled in Bikram’s circle, she had been teaching at a Bikram studio in Vancouver until July 2014 and had feared coming forward earlier would cost her her job, according to the suit.
Lawler is represented by Mary Shea Hagebols, the same lawyer representing Jane Doe No. 1 and Jane Doe No. 2, in their separate lawsuits against Bikram Choudhury and Bikram’s Yoga College of India LP, alleging rape and sexual assault.
Besides the personal implications, these rape cases could spell a major fallout for the Bikram empire as a whole. One part of the suit that stood out:
Plaintiff is informed and believes that Defendant BIKRAM CHOUDHURY treats the YCOI [Yoga College of India], YCPL [Yoga College Private Limited] and his other partnerships, businesses and corporations as his “alter egos,” or extensions of himself rather than as legal entities. On information and belief, Defendant BIKRAM CHOUDHURY exercises full financial control over YCOI and YCPL treats their bank accounts as personal bank accounts. Furthermore, Defendant BIKRAM CHOUDHURY uses personal funds and YCOI funds to pay salaries for employees who ostensibly work for YCPL in India.
The entire suit is available to the public and can be read below if you can stomach it. The description of the grueling nine-week teacher training experience may be enough for some.
Warning: The following document may be extremely triggering.
- Judge Rules Bikram Choudhury Will Face Most of Rape Allegations, Case Will Go To Trial
- Bikram Studio Owners And Teachers Respond To Rape Charges And The Community Divided
- Bikram’s Rape Accusers Speak Out For First Time on ‘Nightline’
- Satyananda Yoga Reeling from Horrific Details of Sex Abuse, Rape Allegations and Accountability