Update posted March 2, 2015: A former Bikram teacher has posted a petition on Change.org asking Bikram Choudhury to step down as CEO of Bikram Yoga, Inc. At the time of this update, 377 people had signed the petition.
Lawsuits brought by women who allege they’ve been raped, abused, and discriminated against by Bikram Yoga founder Bikram Choudhury have been piling up for a while.
Last week, another woman came forward, bringing the total number to six. And earlier this month, a Los Angeles judge ruled one of the cases, filed in 2013, would go to trial.
Here’s what you need to know:
The newest lawsuit (available in its entirety, here) was filed by Jill Lawler on February 13. Lawler was 18-years-old when she began her Bikram Yoga teacher training and says Choudhury singled her out to massage his feet regularly, before later assaulting and raping her.
The situations described in the suit are graphic, violent, and involve Choudhury manipulating and threatening Lawler by saying things like “If you don’t have sex with me, I will die.” Lawler’s descriptions of the grueling hours, obedience demanded, and financial stranglehold imposed during Bikram teacher trainings (which cost upwards of $10,000) is consistent with many of the suits filed earlier.
The case that will go to trial was brought by an unnamed former student of Choudhury’s, called “Jane Doe No. 2” in 2013 lawsuit. Although the statute of limitations had passed on rape allegations, the judge allowed it to move forward on the grounds that the woman had shown evidence to prove she was incapacitated by the abuse and therefore unable to file a lawsuit sooner. The judge ruled Choudhury will face charges of “sexual battery, gender violence, false imprisonment and five other claims,” according to Clubindustry.com.
What will happen in the courtroom remains to be seen. Another question, of course, is how the ongoing unraveling of the guru will affect the hundreds of studios that make up Choudhury’s yoga empire around the world. —Lisa Elaine Held
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