The business of yoga, as represented by yoga studios offering group classes, has grown at a tremendous rate in the U.S. in recent years. These studios employ people as instructors, many of whom receive training from affiliated yoga schools. Several recent lawsuits have alleged sexual harassment and misconduct in trainings and studios. A former instructor at a Manhattan yoga studio is accusing her former guru of sexual harassment. Faurot v. Jivamukti Yoga Ctr., Inc., et al., No. 150790/2016, am. verif. Complaint (N.Y. Sup. Ct., N.Y. Co., Apr. 4, 2016). A sexual harassment lawsuit filed in Los Angeles against a yoga studio founder, Jafa-Bodden v. Choudhury, et al., No. BC512041, complaint (Cal. Super. Ct., L.A. Co., Jun. 13, 2013), recently resulted in a jury verdict of nearly $925,000.
Yoga originated in India as a spiritual practice that combines mental and physical elements. In the U.S. today, it is primarily viewed as a form of exercise that emphasizes strength, balance, flexibility, and breathing. Even the U.S. president has recommended that people try yoga as a way to “improve their health and overall well-being.” According to the travel publication Frommers, New York City is home to at least 300 yoga studios, with thousands more located around the country.
Sexual harassment is considered unlawful sex discrimination in New York City under three statutes: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a); the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), N.Y. Exec. L. § 296(1)(a); and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(1). Sexual harassment can occur in many forms, including demands for sexual contact or activity as a condition of employment (quid pro quo sexual harassment), and a pervasive pattern of conduct that renders the workplace unbearable (hostile work environment).
The plaintiff in Faurot worked for the defendant yoga center from 2009 until 2014, initially as an apprentice and ultimately as an instructor. She studied under another yoga instructor at the center, whom she describes as her guru, during her employment there. Establishing a student/guru relationship is a requirement of employment by the center, according to the plaintiff, and students are allegedly instructed to “follow and obey the Guru and any and all instructions or demands made by the Guru.” Faurot, complaint at 3.
The plaintiff alleges multiple acts of sexual harassment and sexual assault by her guru, and she claims that the center failed to take remedial action. She states in her complaint that “the Defendants exploit Eastern philosophy and beliefs as superseding western sexual harassment and anti-discrimination law, in the context of the student/guru relationship.” Id. She is asserting causes of action for sexual harassment under the NYCHRL and the NYSHRL.
The Jafa-Bodden lawsuit alleged a wide-ranging pattern of conduct that “created a hyper-sexualized, offensive and degrading environment for women.” Jafa-Bodden, complaint at 6. The plaintiff worked in an executive capacity for the defendant, who operates a network of yoga studios with a yoga school and a vast array of marketing activities. In addition to conduct directed toward her, she claimed that the defendant impeded her attempts to investigate allegations of sexual harassment brought by other female employees. In January 2016, a jury awarded her $924,500 in damages.
The sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates fight for the rights of New York City employees and job applicants in claims for unlawful employment practices under city, state, and federal laws. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a knowledgeable and experienced employee rights advocate, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.
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