This article was originally published
by The CITY on Aug 17
BY Christine Chung
Five Queens women filed a class-action lawsuit against a prominent physician who practices in Jackson Heights, charging he sexually abused patients — including allegedly conducting unwarranted breast exams on girls as young as 14 years old.
The suit against Dr. Ferdous Khandker — described in court papers as “a self-styled celebrity doctor of great prominence in the Bengali community” — emerged on Friday, the final day Child Victims Act civil cases could be filed for years-old claims of sexual misconduct in New York.
In their complaint filed in Queens Supreme Court, the plaintiffs allege that in incidents spanning two decades Khandker touched their breasts, even when they sought routine care for symptoms such as a sore throat. In some instances, they say, he instructed them to partially undress.
“Dr. Ferdous Khandker is a serial sexual predator who, for decades, has sexually assaulted and harassed dozens of women and young girls, under the auspices of providing medical care,” the complaint alleges.
The complaint, filed against Khandker and medical providers associated with his practice, followed an unsuccessful defamation suit the physician filed last year after a series of women began posting online about his alleged behavior.
“I believe he will regret that choice for the rest of his life because of how spectacularly it backfired,” said Susan Crumiller, an attorney representing the five women.
“It led to many of his survivors coming together and summoning the extraordinary courage required to speak out against a man like him: one who has cultivated a reputation of power and invincibility. Khandker must have truly believed that filing a lawsuit would successfully silence his victims. Instead, it did the opposite.”
Neither Khandker nor his attorney could be reached for comment.
In legal documents in the defamation case, Khandker said that he does not sexually assault his patients, that he’s never molested anyone, and that he did “not give breast exams if the reason why the patient is seeing him does not require one.” Khandker has appealed the decision dismissing his defamation claim.
‘Beyond My Imagination’
The class-action suit details multiple allegations against Khandker that the women say happened when they were ages ranging from 14 to 23.
One woman described accompanying her mother to Khandker’s 37th Avenue office
for an appointment. While at the office, the woman, then 23, asked Khandker if he could give her “a routine blood test,” according to the lawsuit
She said she then entered an exam room with him, where he told her that he needed to perform a check-up prior to the test. He attempted to pull her shirt up, which she said she resisted, but he insisted and ultimately pulled her shirt up to her neck, according to the lawsuit. He then allegedly placed his stethoscope underneath her bra and commented on its padding and tightness.
The woman, now 24, said that Khandker stared at her chest, making her deeply uncomfortable. Then, she said, he touched her nipple with his fingers.
“This was beyond my imagination,” she told THE CITY. “I pushed him harder. That’s when he realized I wasn’t OK with this.”
She said she left the room, shaken with fear. When she and her mother exited the premises, she told her mother what had happened but did not feel prepared to confront Khandker.
Later that day, the plaintiff posted about the alleged incident on her Facebook page, while describing it as a friend’s experience, the complaint reads.
“Education doesn’t really educate you or else every highly educated individual would be the most civilized human being ever,” the post read, according to the defamation suit. “One of my friends went for a regular checkup this morning and he tried to molest her. She was sooo in shock that she couldn’t take actions right away. This is so absurd and unacceptable if your doctor does that to you.”
Over the following months, the post garnered increasing attention. Others contacted the woman, offering similar accounts, she said. In June, the woman reposted her allegations and the anonymous stories of others on her social media.
Others circulated a change.org petition calling for Khandker’s medical license to be revoked. More than 4,500 individuals signed the change.org petition, which has since been removed from the website.
‘Scared to Come Forward’
Khandker responded by suing the woman, and two other individuals who posted the allegations, for online harassment and defamation, seeking damages of at least $1 million.
“I know how difficult it is to walk around with this in your heart,” the woman told THE CITY, adding that she was shocked that he sued her. “After seeing the lawsuit, I was kind of weak and this is what he wanted, to make me feel weak so i don’t fight anymore, but that’s not going to happen.”
In addition to practicing medicine in Queens, Khandker also regularly posts videos on his YouTube channel, where he describes himself as a “renowned” physician specializing in internal and geriatric medicine. In his lawsuit, he alleged “irreparable harm” to his personal and professional reputation.
A year after Khandker filed the defamation suit, the judge tossed it and ordered the doctor to pay the defendants’ attorneys fees. Khandker has appealed the decision.
Several women filed complaints with the New York Office of Professional Medical Conduct, according to Crumiller. Jeffrey Hammond, a spokesperson for the Office of Professional Medical Conduct, said that the agency does not comment on or confirm investigations.
The five plaintiffs brought the class action suit against Khandker “on behalf of the class of patients who were too young to know what was happening, too traumatized to act sooner, or too scared to come forward against a powerful offender,” the complaint reads.
Their stories, as outlined in court papers, are similar. Most allege they went to see him for cold symptoms and respiratory issues, were asked to take their shirts off and then were touched inappropriately. Some of the plaintiffs told THE CITY that they were paralyzed with fear and shock.
Dr. Furman McDonald, a senior vice president at the American Board of Internal Medicine, said that while there “certainly are conditions which it’s appropriate” for a doctor to screen a patient for breast cancer, administering breast exams to patients who sought treatment for respiratory issues like sore throats and colds was “unusual.”
‘People are Speaking Up’
The eldest of the plaintiffs charged Khandker abused her in 2003, when she was 14 years old.
She said she arrived at Khandker’s office with her mother to seek treatment for her asthma. In the examination room, the complaint alleged, he asked the plaintiff if she knew how to perform a breast self-exam.
He then instructed her to partially undress and performed the exam, according to court papers. A month later, after experiencing an asthma attack, the plaintiff returned and he touched her bare breasts again, the complaint reads.
Another plaintiff, described an incident to THE CITY that she said occurred a decade ago when she was also 14. Recapping the allegations in the complaint, the plaintiff said that she went to the doctor to assess her flu-like symptoms. During the exam, he placed his stethoscope on her bare breast and touched it, she said.
She doesn’t recall Khandker asking her about her health or recording her vitals.
“I had nightmares for days, I didn’t know how to tell my mom,” she said. “I was young enough to not know how to speak up, but I was also not naive. I knew this was not how a doctor tests you. I knew something happened to me.”
She said she wasn’t ready then to share her account.
“I can advocate for myself now, I am stronger. I know who I am,” she said. “Now I’m speaking up and a lot of people are speaking up.”
The five women are seeking compensatory and punitive damages for allegations that include false imprisonment at his medical facility, emotional distress, gender violence and discrimination, medical malpractice, lack of consent, and sexual violation of minors.
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