Crime

Bikram Yoga Files for Bankruptcy Amid Sexual Harassment Cases

Founder Bikram Choudhary has been accused of sexual assault and wrongful dismissal by several women.

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Bikram Choudhary Yoga Inc. has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after multiple court judgments made the company liable to pay $16.7 million to women for sexual assault. In its court filings on Nov. 9, the company’s representatives said that they have liabilities of $50 million and assets of $1 million only.

Choudhary, the 73-year-old Indian-origin founder of the studio, was accused of sexual assault by many women, including his yoga practitioners, students, and instructors, following which an arrest warrant was issued for him in May. The accused fled the United States to India after refusing to pay the women.

Choudhary had established a multi-million dollar organization and a cult around his “hot yoga” practice, where people would perform yoga exercises in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The company he founded was based in Simi Valley, California.

Choudhary’s former lawyer, Miki Jaffa Bodden, had accused him of firing her when she tried to investigate a woman’s rape. She also accused him of harassment and subjecting her to obscene comments about women. “Birkram 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,” Bodden said in her lawsuit in 2013.

Another woman, Jill Lawler, had said that he sexually assaulted her when she was 18. Former Obama White House lawyer Petra Starke accused him of wrongful dismissal, sexually inappropriate conduct and “racist tirades” when she was the CEO of Bikram Yoga College of India.

While Bodden claims $8 million, Starke is owed $5.1 million. Another woman, Sharon Clerkin, has a $3.6 million claim, after she was fired for becoming pregnant.

Five more women have accused Choudhary of rape, and one has accused him of sexual assault.

“Women likes me. Women loves me. So if I really wanted to involve the women, I don’t have to assault the women,” Choudhary, who was  born in Kolkata and moved to the United States in the 1970s, told CNN in 2015.

“Why would I have to harass women?” he said in another interview. “People spend $1 million for one drop of my sperm.” He had also bragged to a TV channel that four women were driven to commit suicide because he refused them sex.

Bodden said that Choudhary expected women to massage him. Lawler said that he groped her once when she was told to massage him, but apologized later. However, on a later occasion he invited her to a hotel room where he raped her.

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