A former teacher and recruiter for Bikram Yoga testified Thursday that the company’s founder made offensive remarks about non- Indian women and often used the “B” word when referring to females in the workplace or in training.
Sharon Clerkin was called as a plaintiff’s witness in the Los Angeles Superior Court trial of Minakshi Jafa-Bodden’s sexual harassment lawsuit against India-born Bikram Choudhury and his West Los Angeles-based Yoga College of India.
Jafa-Bodden, who sued in June 2013, alleges she was fired three months earlier after complaining about the treatment of women in the Bikram workplace and for his alleged inappropriate conduct toward her.
Choudhury’s lawyers maintain Jafa-Bodden was fired because she did not tell them she wasn’t licensed to practice law in California.
Jafa-Bodden is a native of India who had practiced law internationally after obtaining her law degree in Great Britain. Choudhury, now 69, hired her in 2011 to handle legal matters for him and took steps to enable her to work in the U.S., according to plaintiff’s attorney Mark Quigley.
According to Clerkin, Choudhury referred to American women as “white trash” and used the “B” word when talking about some Asian females.
“It’s his vocabulary,” Clerkin said.
He also used the “B” word and more when referring to Jafa-Bodden, but typically used more favorable terms when referring to Indian women, Clerkin said.
Choudhury also once told a large group of people that he “should rape more girls, it’s good business,” Clerkin said.
She testified that Choudhury’s wife, Rajashree Choudhury, said after a yoga college women’s retreat that she no longer wanted any female teacher trainees under 18 years old enrolled because of a rash of complaints made by young women concerning their alleged treatment by her husband.
Rajashree Choudhury also wanted her name removed “off everything” because she did not want to be held liable in the wake of a rash of lawsuits filed against her husband and the college, Clerkin said.
Asked by Choudhury’s lawyer, Robert Tafoya, if she considered the yoga college a “house of horrors,” Clerkin said she would not describe it in those terms.
“I enjoyed my job, it was an unusual workplace, but not every day was crazy,” Clerkin said.
Clerkin filed her own lawsuit against Choudhury and the yoga college in Los Angeles Superior Court on Nov. 13, alleging she was fired for getting pregnant and for complaining about the way registration information was handled during one training session.
According to her complaint, she began working for Bikram Yoga initially as a yoga instructor in 2010. She later became a teacher-training recruiter and coordinator and was employed by the company until her August firing.
Clerkin helped the company increase its teacher-training registrants from 300 to 400, a number that stood until the “deluge” of sexual assault suits caused the number to drop, the suit says.
Clerkin says she managed the registration for teacher training sessions originally scheduled to take place in the fall of 2014 at an Atlantic City hotel. The training was sold at the rate of $12,500 for a shared room and $16,600 for a single room, according to her complaint.
But six weeks before the training was set to start, Choudhury’s assistant, Monica Shigenaga, told Clerkin that it was being canceled even though 36 people had paid their fees, the suit states.
Clerkin says she took several days off between late July and early August at her doctor’s advice because of pregnancy issues and later learned from her assistant that someone else was hired by Bikram to work in the plaintiff’s position in her absence.
During a conversation with Choudhury after Clerkin returned to work in August, he told her, “You’re a failure. I should have fired you two years ago. You’re not selling the teacher training,” according to her complaint.
Choudhury later confirmed that Clerkin and her husband, who also worked at the college, were being fired, Clerkin’s suit states. Choudhury told Shigenaga to call the police and have them both removed from the premises, the suit alleges.
— Wire Reports