Former Maine Fire Chief and City Sued Over Sexual Assault

A fire department employee who was sexually harassed and assaulted by a fire chief has filed suit against the fire department and the chief in federal court in Maine.

Whitney Nichols filed suit against city of Caribou and former Fire Chief Roy Woods, age 70. Nichols was 17 when the harassment began and 18 when the sexual assault took place.

When Nichols reported the assault, other woman came forward with reports of similar conduct. Woods resigned and in 2013 pled guilty to “unlawful sexual touching … and assault … for his December 23, 2011, sexual assault on Ms. Nichols”; and “three counts of unlawful sexual contact … and two counts of assault … for his earlier sexual assault on [a] City of Caribou volunteer”. He was reportedly sentenced to one month in prison.

Among the allegations contained in Nichols’ complaint:

The sexual harassment included, but is not limited to, the following:

a) He repeatedly hugged her, putting his hands around her waist;

b) He repeatedly asked her what she had gotten him for Christmas;

c) He referred to her as his “girlfriend”;

d) He sent her text messages such as, “how are you doing” or “you miss me?”;

e) He sent her text messages after hours;

f) He texted her saying, “you’re still my girlfriend”; and

g) He sexually assaulted her on December 23, 2011.

The December 23, 2011 assault involved a complicated ruse that Woods employed when Nichols said she wanted to join the city’s emergency response team. Quoting from the complaint:

“Defendant Woods told Ms. Nichols that she was required to have a physical exam to be a CERT member and that he was the one who conducted the physical exams.”

The complaint details how the ruse exam was administered. Nichols alleges that after she reported the incident she was ostracized and retaliated against by members of the Caribou Fire & Ambulance Department.

The three-count complaint alleges a violation of the Maine Human Rights Act, a violation of the Equal Protection Clause by Woods, and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause by the City of Caribou. According to the complaint:

The City of Caribou knew or should have known about Defendant Woods’ sexual harassment of City of Caribou employees, including Ms. Nichols.

Defendant Woods’ sexual harassment of City of Caribou employees was so well settled and widespread that the policymaking officials of the City of Caribou can be said to have had either actual or constructive knowledge of it yet did nothing to end the practice.

Here is a copy of the complaint. Nichols v Caribou

News coverage of the suit.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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