A California judge has ruled that Bikram Choudhury, founder of Bikram (hot) yoga, cannot plead the Fifth Amendment to avoid discovery requests from a former employee. The Fifth Amendment protects people from being held for committing a crime. Since the plaintiff, Sharon Clerkin’s, allegations are not related to criminal conduct, the judge said, there is no reason for Choudhury to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. The employee in the discrimination case, Clerkin, says she was fired after becoming pregnant which raised workplace concerns. Clerkin’s suit seeks damages for lost wages and emotional distress and other compensation. It alleges violations of the federal Fair Employment and Housing Act, including gender discrimination and failure to prevent discrimination, retaliation in violation of California law and wrongful termination in violation of federal and state labor laws.
The California judge ruled that the suit is unrelated to the sexual assault claims Choudhury currently faces. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos granted Clerkin’s motion to compel Choudhury to respond to requests for documents and information related to her suit against the Choudhury and his yoga teacher training school. Choudhury must respond to requests for documents and information related to Clerkin’s suit. The judge wanted to impose sanctions against Choudhury for withholding responses, but did not because Choudhury was acting on the advice of his criminal counsel.
Numerous claims of harassment, sexual assault and rape have been filed against Choudhury by former yoga teacher trainees and employees of his yoga school. (https://fromthelegalfield.com/2016/02/01/bikram-yoga-founder-sued-for-sexual-assault/) The fear of Bikram’s attorney lies with the fact that a criminal prosecutor could use evidence in a gender discrimination case against Choudhury for a criminal matter. If the sexual assault cases come to fruition the evidence Bikram and his attorney were trying to keep out of the court could be used later against him in a criminal matter. In protecting the interests of both parties the judge ruled granting Clerkin’s motion to compel discovery, but vacated the plaintiff’s $16,500 sanctions request. She noted that if any question from Clerkin to Choudhury touched on a criminal matter, the defendant maintained the right to plead the Fifth, and those specific questions could come back to the court for review.
Clerkin maintains she was fired for getting pregnant and for complaining about alleged misleading registration information concerning a training session. According to the lawsuit, Clerkin began working for Bikram Yoga at its West Los Angeles headquarters initially as a yoga instructor. The suit states that she later became a teacher-training recruiter and coordinator and was employed by the company from 2010 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 states. Clerkin alleges in her complaint that during a conversation with Choudhury after she 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,” There are rumors circulating that many yoga studios are stripping the Bikram name and Choudhury is going back to India.