“It’s Getting Hot In Here . . . So Take Off All Your Clothes?”- Yoga Guru Settles Latest in a String of Lawsuits Costing Him Millions of Dollars

“It’s Getting Hot In Here . . . So Take Off All Your Clothes?”- Yoga Guru Settles Latest in a String of Lawsuits Costing Him Millions of Dollars

On December 12, 2016, Bikram Choudhury, best known as the guru of “Bikram” or “hot” Yoga settled the latest in a long string of sexual harassment and misconduct lawsuits filed against him in California courts.  The latest lawsuit alleged that Choudhury and his Culver City, California Yoga College sexually harassed, assaulted, and discriminated against a former student named Sarah Baughn.

Baughn’s lawsuit alleged that she began training with Choudhury in 2005 at the age of 20, hoping to alleviate years of back pain and depression. Baughn claimed that Bikram treated Baughn differently than other students, often cornering her, forcing Baughn to give Choudhury massages and brush his hair, and offering to sleep with Baughn to advance her career.

Choudhury argued that Baughn maliciously filed the lawsuit due to her failure to advance in the organization and placing second in a 2008 international yoga competition, although Baughn claims this finish was due to her rebuffing an alleged advance from Choudhury. Whatever the truth, it is clear that Choudhury’s behavior has again cost him a significant sum of money.

The Baughn lawsuit comes on the heels of a January 2016 $6.4 million punitive damages award against Choudhury wherein the guru was also charged with sexual misconduct in his sweltering hot yoga rooms. That case was filed in California state court by Choudhury’s onetime legal advisor Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, who alleged that Choudhury routinely harassed her while she worked for him. Jafa-Bodden also alleged that she was retaliated against after investigating a claim that Choudhury had raped one of his students.

Leadership Failure Threatens to Destroy the Bikram Brand

Six other women have accused Choudhury of sexual misconduct in recent years in connection with either their attendance or employment at his Bikram Yoga academies.  As more women come forward with allegations of misconduct against Choudhury, irreparable damage to his valuable brand of Yoga teachings occurs. It will not be surprising when the name “Bikram” carries as negative a connotation among Yoga enthusiasts as the name “Cosby” does to television fans or “O.J.” does to sports fans.

The simple lesson to be learned from Choudhury’s misconduct is the age-old compliance adage that leaders often fail to practice what they preach. Yoga is symbolic of peace and harmony between mind, body and soul, yet Choudhury has apparently attempted time and again to abuse his students and employees for personal gratification. This situation is not unlike that of Roger Ailes at Fox News in that leaders of powerful brands feel they are above the law and can do no wrong. Once the leaders begin to believe the brand is too big to fail they abuse power for personal gain and bring their companies and brands down with them.

Time and again the compliance field has seen leaders fall into the same avoidable traps. Instead of abusing their power it is important for leaders to understand the damage, (physical, emotional and reputational) that can come from abuse of power and compliance failure. By adhering to a set of ethics those leaders can remain out of court and in the good graces of the public. For Choudhury, who appears incapable of acting ethically, it appears “hot yoga” has taken on an entirely inappropriate meaning and it may be time to shut the doors.

Syntrio is a leader in both the ethics and compliance field, as well as human resources and employment law. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards compliance program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content. Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our ethics and code of conduct online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance that impact your company!

 

Written by Jonathan Gonzalez, Chief Counsel for Syntrio.

Dollars to Donuts: The Value of Compliance to Corporate Reputation

Dollars to Donuts: The Value of Compliance to Corporate Reputation

Trust, integrity, balance.  These are the terms that come to mind when weighing the impact of compliance failures on company reputation.  Abraham Lincoln once said, “[i]t takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” Too many companies fail to grasp the connection between profitability and reputation when weighing their compliance goals and plan implementation. Indeed, those companies often wind up on the front page of newspapers and the subject of countless blog posts like this one.

In recent years we have seen compliance blunders from Volkswagon, Johnson Controls, FoxNews, Valeant, and a host of other large companies and leaders. The trust lost in their brands cannot be understated. When surveyed as to the qualities they look for most in a company beyond financial compensation; employees without question most commonly answer “trust” and “integrity.” Good employees want to work for organizations that are less likely to stain their personal reputations and resumes with compliance failures.

Good People Make Good Parents

It is well settled that compliance starts from the highest levels of leadership within a company and trickles down to the rest of the members of the organization. The adage about good people making good parents applies to corporate leadership and compliance as well. The leaders are the parents, tasked with guiding and nurturing not just the organization but all of its employees as well. When corporate leaders are engaged in educating themselves about compliance, there is a greater degree of engagement within the company.  Some leaders have even chosen to speak about the importance of compliance to the enterprise as a whole, either by webinar or at a corporate function.

A commitment to compliance requires time and attention, just as does raising a child. When corporate leaders and senior executives fail to understand the importance of compliance to the workforce and corporate reputation as a whole, the rest of the organization begins taking shortcuts. This concept may seem subjective, but significant research has shown that it is not. It boils down to the question “who would you want to be working for?”

Closing the Quantitative Gap

Goodwill and public trust are admittedly difficult to quantify. Subjectively, many have attempted to answer the question vaguely, by stating “a company is worthless without its reputation.” That may be true, to some extent, but recent studies have shown that taking the overall stock valuation of the company and subtracting the value of compliance errors leads to a 20% to 30% premium in overall valuation based on company reputation. This is a very significant number and one that begs greater attention from companies spending far too little on compliance initiatives.

Strengthening trust and brand value has an impact on the way the workforce and consumers view the product and/or services companies provide as well. When a corporate leader is truly invested and believes in the compliance goals the company espouses, the employees have proven more engaged in training and are more likely to report suspected violations.  The key is grasping the value of compliance at the highest levels and imparting this knowledge upon mid-managers and lower level employees.  The next time you see a company on the front page of a newspaper for a compliance gaffe, you’ll be glad you did!

Syntrio is a leader in both the ethics and compliance field, as well as human resources and employment law. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards compliance program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content. Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our ethics and code of conduct online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance that impact your company!

 

Written by Jonathan Gonzalez, Chief Counsel for Syntrio.