Founder of Bikram Yoga Threatens Bankruptcy In Face of Sexual Harassment Verdict Totaling Over $7 Million

By: Timothy Broderick and Katrina Saleen

Bikram Chaudhury, founder of Bikram Yoga, was ordered to pay $924,500 in compensatory damages for sexually harassing and retaliating against the attorney working for his company, and another $6.47 million in punitive damages.

The plaintiff, Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, alleged that Chaudhury sexually harassed her when she worked for him and that she was wrongfully terminated for investigating claims that Chaudhury had raped a yoga student.

Chaudhury, king of the Bikram hot yoga empire, tried to cry poor to the jury before they assessed a punitive damages award, telling the jurors that he had no income last year and that his collection of more than 30 luxury vehicles had been promised to Governor Gerry Brown for a children’s automotive engineering school. He further testified that his mansion in Beverly Hills is mortgaged and that his property in Hawaii is just an “apartment.” He claimed that his once profitable business training yoga instructors has not made a profit in years. The jury, in awarding $6.47 million in punitive damages apparently did not buy Chaudhury’s claims regarding his finances. The wealth of a defendant is a determining factor for jurors in deciding the amount of a punitive damages award.

The victim’s lawyers allegedly have called Chaudhury’s bankruptcy claims a “sham” and say they are set on collecting the entire judgment against him.

Even if Chaudhury does file for bankruptcy, that does not mean that this judgment will be discharged. Bankruptcy does discharge certain debts, freeing the debtors of obligations to pay back those debts. However, punitive damages awards and judgments for willful or malicious acts can be ordered non-dischargeable by the Bankruptcy judge. If the judgment against Chaudhury is ordered non-dischargeable, then Chaudhury would remain responsible for paying the judgment, even after his bankruptcy.

Whether or not Chaudhury files for bankruptcy, the victim is likely to face a long and tough road before the full judgment is collected. But, with persistence, Chaudhury is not likely to get off the hook for the money he owes to her.

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