A Vancouver woman has filed a lawsuit against yoga millionaire Bikram Choudhury, alleging the 69-year-old yoga guru sexually assaulted her during an instructor training course in Las Vegas in 2010.
Jill Lawler alleges she was "repeatedly sexually assaulted, raped and harassed" by Choudhury, and that he "preyed on … her youth and vulnerability … which caused her significant and enduring physical, emotional and psychological harm."
The civil lawsuit filed in the California Superior Court in Los Angeles earlier this month says Lawler was 18 years old when she began training with, and then working for, Choudhury's yoga business.
Lawler says she paid $10,000 in 2010 to attend a nine-week intensive yoga instructor training course after personally writing to Choudhury to be allowed to take part, despite not meeting the course's normal minimum age requirement of 21.
The lawsuit alleges the exhaustive training program and low protein diet pushed "students to the point were they become compliant and unquestioning with regard to their guru's requests."
Evening assaults alleged
During an evening meeting, Lawler's lawsuit alleges, she began massaging Choudhury's feet and he put his hand on her thigh, then attempted to put his hand inside her pants. She jumped up and left the room in shock, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges the unwanted sexual advances continued during the course, stating "one night about a week later Choudhury insisted that Jill accompany him to his hotel room … where in addition to raping her … Choudury demanded she say disgusting and untrue things, including: 'Bikram you're the best' and 'I want to f--k you all night long.'"
The lawsuit alleges Choudhury assaulted Lawler again during his training session, and on other occasions over the coming years while she was working at his studios, including at his home in Los Angeles, at another training course, and while training in India.
In the lawsuit, she says she felt there was nothing she could do about the alleged assaults, because she thought Choudhury would retaliate by preventing her from working at his Vancouver studios and make it impossible for her to earn a living.
"Jill was terrified of … Choudhury because he had a number of close followers in Vancouver, would brag that he knew 'all of the police' and many other powerful people, he warned students, including Jill, not to 'f--k with him,' and frequently stated that 'people who don't listen to me, they die,'" says the lawsuit.
Lawler alleges that once she learned another woman had filed a lawsuit against Choudhury, he became concerned and began to offer "veiled bribes to buy her silence," which she refused.
The lawsuit says that in July 2014, Lawler taught her last Bikram class, but she still suffers from crippling psychological harm. She is suing for unspecified compensation.
No police investigation
The allegations have not been proven in court, and Choudhury has not filed a response to the lawsuit.
The Bikram Yoga Vancouver Team said this is a "terrible tragedy for the individuals involved."
"If these allegations are upheld, we certainly condemn this type of behaviour," it said in an emailed statement. "All of that said, once there is a verdict in this case, we'll see where that takes us."
CBC News has not yet received a response to a request for comment from Choudhury. But according to an article published yesterday in the New York Times, Choudhury's lawyers said they had not yet been formally served with the lawsuit.
Lawler's lawyer Mary Shea Hagebols is also representing five other women who filed lawsuits in 2013 and 2014 against Choudhury for alleged sexual harassment and sexual assault.
According to a statement posted on the Bikram Yoga website dated April 2014, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office has looked into the prior allegations and decided against pursuing criminal investigations of Choudhury at that time.
The New York Times article also said Choudhury's lawyers issued a statement saying Choudhury "did not sexually assault any of the plaintiffs” and that the women were “unjustly” exploiting the legal system for financial gain.
Choudhury is known for developing and copyrighting a sequence of 26 yoga postures which are normally performed in a room heated to 40 C. His chain of 650 yoga studios around the world have made the Beverley Hills resident a multimillionaire.