Dr. Richard W. Feldman isn’t new to accusations and official proceedings. The last time he made headlines was for allegedly flashing a gun at another motorist in traffic on Mallory Lane in Cool Springs on June 1.
Along with his Doctors’ Diet Program, Feldman has been the focus of extensive coverage in the Nashville Scene, reporting that flares with sexual misconduct, both verbal and physical, were common in the doctor’s office and elsewhere.
The state Board of Medical Examiners voted to revoke Feldman’s medical license in January 2008 for the way he advertised a weight-reduction injection treatment — known as mesotherapy or lipodissolve — saying it could “melt the fat” at a rate of “one pound of fat per week.” The board’s ruling stated there are no well-designed clinical studies suggesting “meaningful weight loss or reduction” to back up the doctor’s claims.
The latest accusation that could land the doctor in court comes from a former employee who said he flew her and others to Destin, Fla., sexually assaulted her while she was sleeping, and then fired her after she avoided further travel with the doctor and sought legal advice.
Filed on July 26 in Davidson County Circuit Court, the lawsuit names as defendants Feldman and his companies, the Doctors’ Diet Program and Doctors’ Diet Inc. It states that Feldman hired the plaintiff — whose name is being withheld because she is the victim of an alleged sexual assault — in mid-March as a medical technician at his Nashville office, which is located at 205 29th Ave. N.
Doctors’ Diet Program offices are scattered across the state, and there are more than two dozen in Georgia, California, Kentucky, Ohio and Florida. Because narcotics such as Phentermine (one half of the notorious Fen-Phen duo banned in the late ’90s) are prescribed at the offices, the doctor and assistants who can prescribe the drugs often travel on the weekend to the branch offices.
Doc, as she said Feldman likes to be called, requested two employees travel to and staff the Chattanooga office on Saturday, April 3. She and another worker headed out in a 1970s-era company station wagon, while Feldman and his co-pilot flew down in the doctor’s private plane.
After work, the doctor offered to fly his two workers back home, stopping in Tullahoma, Tenn., and Manchester, Tenn., to check out potential clinic locations. Feldman was known by some to pick up and head out on a whim, so it was best to carry a packed bag when traveling alongside him.
“Eventually he says, ‘What would y’all think about going to Destin?’ ” she told The City Paper in a recent interview. Her weekend was open, her son was taken care of, and “no one really wanted to say no,” she said.
The group flew south and checked into a room at the Hilton Sandestin, where the doctor appeared to be a familiar face to the staff. After dinner, the four went back to the hotel room, made some drinks and sat out on the beach a while.
“I think I was probably the last one to go to bed,” she said. “I woke up in the middle of the night.”
She said she awoke to Feldman standing next to the top bunk where she slept and sexually assaulting her with his hand. In a brief panic but still pretending to be asleep, she closed her legs, rolled over and faced the wall. She gives the same version of events in the lawsuit.
“And he said something to me, I can’t remember what he said, but when he was done, he said [something to the effect of] ‘You can thank Feldman for that’ or something nasty,” she said.
The next morning she said the doctor asked, quite explicitly, whether she remembered what happened last night.
“He’s a major pervert — major, major pervert,” she told The City Paper.
She didn’t know how to act or respond, and tried to play off Feldman’s question as a joke, she said. She spent much of the rest of the trip alone on the beach before the group boarded the plane to fly back Sunday afternoon.
“I got home, and a I never told a soul about it,” she said. “I just [tried to] forget that it ever happened. I didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t want to think about it … because I still needed my job.”
Around the doctor, she demurred about the alleged incident. But after a month or so, the same friend who helped get her the job at the clinic approached her about something he’d heard regarding her and Feldman. The doctor was apparently bragging to staff, she said, that he had performed a sexual act on her while she slept, and that she almost woke up and caught him.
Meanwhile, she was scheduled for weekend travel to a Knoxville clinic with Feldman, but to avoid him she arranged for another employee to pick up her shift.
“Eventually, I was told that word got back to him that I knew [what he’d said],” she told The City Paper. “I was called that afternoon — that Saturday I took off — and I was told I was terminated for failure to dock time.”
The job for which the mother in her mid-20s took a pay cut was gone.
Aside from sexual assault and battery, the suit states that Feldman caused emotional distress and violated her human rights by firing her in retaliation. She is seeking $750,000 in compensatory damages, as well as unspecified punitive damages.
An ugly history
As for Feldman’s other ongoing matters, his medical license remains under appeal, and he still holds an active license set to expire at the end of September 2011.
The alleged victim who accused Feldman of flashing a gun told Franklin police the doctor cut him off as he tried to exit the Cool Springs Galleria parking lot.
The man phoned in Feldman’s vehicle description to police after he said Feldman threatened him by flashing a silver handgun while the two were in lunchtime traffic near the mall. A short time later, police arrested the doctor in a strip mall parking lot on Mallory Lane.
Franklin police charged Feldman with aggravated assault for the June 1 gun incident. He was scheduled to appear in a Williamson County courtroom on Tuesday, Sept. 7, to answer that charge.
The Scene’s August 2006 cover story, which labeled Feldman “Dr. Feelbad,” told of a police report filed in 1993 by one of Feldman’s patients, describing how the doctor — angered by a 2 a.m. phone call to his home by the patient — allegedly punched the man in the shoulder and pulled him out of the office before kicking him hard between the legs.
According to the Criminal Court Clerk’s website, that charge was dismissed in August 1993.
The Scene story goes on to cite state medical board findings in the late 1990s stating Feldman and a madam of Dawn’s Day Spa, a local brothel that was later shut down, had worked out a deal to trade sex for medical care.
Calls made to Feldman’s office, as well as to his lawyer’s office, seeking comment were not returned.