Yoga guru Bikram Choud­hury files for bank­ruptcy amid sex­ual ha­rass­ment claims

The Sunday Guardian - - Business - REUTERS

Bikram Choud­hury Yoga Inc, the stu­dio that pop­u­larised do­ing yoga in sauna heat, has filed for U.S. Chap­ter 11 bank­ruptcy, dogged by $ 16.7 mil­lion in le­gal judg­ments and nu­mer­ous law­suits and al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct.

Founder Bikram Choud­hury, who built a world­wide fol­low­ing with classes of 26 yoga pos­tures in rooms heated to 105 de­grees Fahren­heit (40.6° C), has been ac­cused of sex­ual as­sault by his yoga prac­ti­tion­ers, stu­dents, in­struc­tors and teacher trainees.

The Simi Val­ley, Cal­i­for­nia-based com­pany said in a bank­ruptcy court fil­ing on Thurs­day in the Cen­tral District of Cal­i­for­nia that its li­a­bil­i­ties were worth up to $50 mil­lion. It listed as­sets of up to $1 mil­lion, sug­gest­ing that its largest cred­i­tors - women who are owed money for court judg­ments awarded against Choud­hury - will not be paid in full.

They in­clude Miki Jaffa Bod­den, for­mer head of le­gal and in­ter­na­tional af­fairs at Choud­hury’s yoga school who has an $8 mil­lion claim stem­ming from a wrong­ful dis­missal case that in­cluded sex­ual ha­rass­ment claims.

Bod­den al­leged t hat Choud­hury re­peat­edly sub­jected her to vul­gar sex­ual ges­tures and of­fen­sive com­ments about women and mi­nor­ity groups.

“Birkram Choud­hury cre­ated a hyper- sex­u­alised, of­fen­sive and de­grad­ing en­vi­ron­ment for women by, among other things, de­mand­ing that fe­male staff- ers brush his hair and give him mas­sages,” Bod­den said in her 2013 law­suit.

She also ac­cused him of pres­sur­ing her to cover up sex­ual ha­rass­ment of women, and in a sep­a­rate law­suit filed this year, of fraud­u­lently trans­fer­ring as­sets such as luxury cars in­clud­ing a Fer­rari and a Bent­ley to avoid pay­ing judg­ments against him. A war­rant for Choud­hury’s ar­rest was is- sued in May.Pe­tra Starke, who moved from her job as lawyer in the Obama White House to chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Bikram Yoga Col­lege of In­dia in 2013, com­plained of wrong­ful dis­missal, sex­u­ally in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct and “racist tirades.” She has a $5.1 mil­lion claim. Sharon Clerkin, who sued claim­ing she was fired for be­com­ing preg­nant, is owed $3.6 mil­lion.

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