Lawsuit Accuses Famous Yogi of Sexual Harassment

A yoga instructor who studied under Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram Yoga, has filed a lawsuit accusing him of, among other claims, employment discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation. Baughn v. Choudhury, et al, No. BC502424, complaint (Cal. Super. Ct. – Los Angeles Co., Mar. 7, 2013). She later became an instructor in studios teaching the Bikram style of yoga, and alleges that he continued to harass her and retaliated against her for speaking out.

According to her complaint, plaintiff Sarah Baughn dropped out of college in 2005 at age 20 and borrowed money to attend the Bikram Yoga Teacher Training in order to become a certified Bikram instructor. Uncomfortable encounters with Choudhury allegedly began almost immediately. She claims that he summoned her to his office on the fifth day of training and propositioned her for a relationship, which she rebuffed. She informed the head of the training program the following day, and claims that he was well aware of the treatment of women in the program. He allegedly advised her to “separate the man from the teacher,” Baughn, complaint at 9, advice she claims she received repeatedly in response to complaints of Choudhury’s behavior. Choudhury allegedly continued to make unwanted advances during training, and made unwanted and unsafe physical contact, including, she claims, holding her in a stretch that “re-tore her hamstring.” Id. at 11.

After completing teacher training, Baughn went to work for a yoga studio and began participating in yoga competitions. She claims that she learned of other female students who had received unwanted pressure for sex from Choudhury, but that the usual response of people in the yoga community was to defend him. She warned other young women about her experiences at training, and alleges that Choudhury and others retaliated against her by keeping her from advancing as an instructor. She also claims that, during a visit to Choudhury’s home in Hawaii in 2007, he told her that the only way she would win a competition would be to have sex with him.

Baughn participated in a teacher training in Mexico in 2008, and claims that Choudhury assaulted her while they were momentarily alone. She claims that Choudhury intervened in an international yoga competition that year to deny her the championship. After that point, she continued teaching, but alleges that the organization never allowed her to teach more than the basic set of postures taught to beginners. She claims that representatives of the organization even contacted studios that had asked her to teach to urge them not to offer a class with her. Id. at 23.

Baughn’s lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleges that Choudhury and others discriminated against her based on her gender in violation of state law. It also claims that Choudhury sexually harassed her, and that he and his organization retaliated against her when she spoke out about it. She claims that the court should toll the statute of limitations due to the economic duress she endured. Id. at 5. Federal and many state laws, include the New York State Human Rights Law, prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, treating it as a form of gender or sex discrimination. The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages, including lost wages, as well as damages for mental anguish, civil penalties, and punitive damages.

The sexual harassment lawyers at Phillips & Associates represent the rights of workers in New York City and surrounding areas, asserting claims for harassment and discrimination at the municipal, state, and federal levels. Contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

Web Resources:

Complaint for Damages (PDF file), No. BC502424, Baughn v. Choudhury, et al, Superior Court of California, Los Angeles County, March 7, 2013
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