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Final Arguments Heard Against Bikram Yoga Founder’s Alleged Sexual Harassment

Students practice the unique Bikram Yoga at the City Studio, in 2007. The Bikram Yoga, also known as Hot Yoga, is a style of yoga developed by Bikram Choudhury and is done in a room heated to 105?F (40.5?C), this helps stretching, prevents injury and makes the body sweat which aids detoxification. The class normally involves two breathing exercises and 26 postures in a 90 minute class (Thinkstock: Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images).
Students practice the unique Bikram Yoga at the City Studio, in 2007. The Bikram Yoga, also known as Hot Yoga, is a style of yoga developed by Bikram Choudhury and is done in a room heated to 105?F (40.5?C), this helps stretching, prevents injury and makes the body sweat which aids detoxification. The class normally involves two breathing exercises and 26 postures in a 90 minute class (Thinkstock: Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images).

Saying the allegedly brazen way in which the founder of the Bikram Yoga empire harassed women in the workplace was unlike any case she’s had in more than 20 years of practice, a lawyer urged a jury Thursday to find that the yogi sexually harassed and punished her client for speaking up against the practices.

Carla Minnard addressed a Los Angeles Superior Court jury hearing final arguments in trial of Minakshi Jafa-Bodden’s 2013 lawsuit against Bikram Choudhury and his West Los Angeles-based Yoga College of India.

Jafa-Bodden alleges she was fired after complaining about the treatment of women in the Bikram workplace and for his alleged inappropriate conduct toward her.

Choudhury’s lawyers sayJafa-Bodden lost her job in 2013 because she did not tell them she wasn’t licensed to practice law in California. They also maintain she worked for a law firm and that neither Choudhury nor the college employed her, even though she says he gave her office space, supplies and yoga college business cards.

The defense attorneys will give their final arguments later today.

Jafa-Bodden is a native of India who practiced law internationally after obtaining her law degree in Great Britain. Choudhury hired her in 2011 to handle legal matters for him and took steps to enable her to work in the United States, according to plaintiff’s attorney Mark Quigley.

Minnard said most sexual harassment takes place behind closed doors. But she said the 69-year-old Choudhury repeatedly used the “B” word in front of large numbers of people when referring to women and thought nothing of having female employees brush his hair and give him massages.

Minnard noted that former White House lawyer Petra Starke, who served for a time as Bikram Yoga’s president and CEO, testified that she witnessed one young female Bikram worker giving Choudhury oral sex during a business trip.

“I do what the (epithet) I want,” Choudhury repeatedly said, according to Minnard.

Minnard said that although Choudhury has been described by some as a “monster”, she does not believe the description goes far enough.

“He’s much worse than a monster,” Minnard said. “Monsters aren’t real. He’s a real person with power over people.”

Minnard alleged Choudhury used his authority to literally prevent some employees from earning a living.

“He took and abused that power in every conceivable way,” Minnard said.

Choudhury once threatened he would harm a federal judge in front of a room full of people — but not the judge — because he was angry about a ruling against him in a Bikram Yoga copyright case, Minnard said.

When Jafa-Bodden raised concerns about lawsuits being filed against the company, Choudhury ordered her to put the complaints to rest, her attorney said.

According to Minnard, Choudhury told Jafa-Bodden, “If you can’t shut them up, I’ll do it,” and alleged that the yogi at one point threatened to kill her client.

Choudhury admitted he did not tell the truth when testifying in a deposition in one of the first lawsuits filed against him, but he blamed his lawyers and said they told him to lie, Minnard said.

Choudhury eventually fired Jafa-Bodden for continuing to probe further into the flurry of litigation, and he took the same action against another personal lawyer shortly thereafter, Minnard said.

Choudhury’s wife, Rajashree Choudhury, also ignored pleas by Jafa-Bodden to take action to protect the company against her husband’s alleged transgressions, saying his off-color remarks were simply the way he spoke, Minnard said.

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