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BY Francis Akhalbey, 8:37am January 10, 2023,

‘I’m not breaking any laws’ – Alabama firefighter fired over tattoo fights back

Kay’Ana Adams was terminated as a firefighter after she got a head tattoo -- Left Photo Credit: MFRD | Right Photo via Kay’Ana Adams

An Alabama firefighter, who was terminated over a head tattoo that she got, said she believes she was also terminated because she raised complaints about things she experienced and noticed while she was a trainee and a new firefighter.

According to WKRG, Kay’Ana Adams had been with the Mobile Fire Department Maryvale station for nine months. But the fire department moved to relieve her of her duties after she got a new tattoo on the back of her head. 

At the time of getting the tattoo in June last year, Adams said she believed the location of the new ink was in line with the fire department’s policy. At the time, the department did not allow “tattoos on the face or neck.”

“Hiring people before, during and after me with neck tattoos more prominent than mine was also kind of impactful in that as well,” Adams said. “I figured mine could be done in decency and order. I could also, based off the rules, cover it up.”

But things took a turn for the worse. “Somebody put in a complaint in regard to my tattoo, and the next thing I knew I was being investigated for it, interrogated behind it, and then they made their decision that I was in violation of policy,” she recalled.

Adams said the city ended up giving her a way out, and that was to grow her hair to conceal the tattoo. And though Adams said she complied, a different complaint about her hair being overly grown was filed some weeks later. That complaint claimed her hair growth was in contravention of the City’s policy, the Black woman said. 

“We have different textures of hair,” Adams said. “So, you have no idea how long it takes for my hair to grow.”

The department also went ahead to amend its policy to bar head tattoos above the neckline some three months after Adams tattooed her head, WKRG reported. In November, a photo of the back of Adam’s head was taken by a captain at her station. The tattoo could no longer be seen. And though Adams tried not to violate the initial and new tattoo policies, she said she was terminated on the day the captain took that photo.

“Definitely blindsided, I never thought it would come to this, especially considering I was in compliance. I’m not necessarily out here trying to be disobedient and I’m not breaking any laws or anything like that, it’s just a tattoo,” Adams said. “What’s behind me shouldn’t affect the work that’s in front of me.”

Adams’ termination was confirmed by Public Safety Director Lawrence Battiste. The official claimed Adams was fired “earlier this year (2022) during their working test period for failing to meet MFRD standards.”

Adams also said her working test period was extended by another six months after she completed the mandatory six months. WKRG asked the Mobile City Spokesperson if there were other Mobile firefighters who had unallowed tattoos. And though the reply was “yes”, the spokesperson claimed the employee had been allowed to conceal the neck tattoo until it was removed.

Adams also claimed the tattoo wasn’t the only reason she was fired. She cited things she complained about when she was a trainee and a rookie firefighter. “How else would I supposed to feel, you know, especially coming to work every day on time, doing exactly what I was supposed to do, trying to go above and beyond, helping out where I can, what else, what I could assume,” she said. 

Besides filing a grievance in response to the tattoo complaint, Adams said she filed two complaints after she noticed incidents of harassment and antagonization. That included two male firefighters making sexist comments. But Adams was fired before she was set to receive a response for the grievance she filed for the hair complaint. 

Adams also cited another incident where she did not file a complaint. She said it happened during her time as a trainee. “It was rope week and a decent amount of people and the other half of the classroom were discussing, trying to tie nooses,” she recalled. “And, you know, instinctively, I guess I just kind of stood up and said, ‘you know, if you want to learn how to do that, I think that it’s best you do that on your free time’.”

Adams said she spoke about the incident to two fire captains. They were identified as Captain Jason Craig and Captain Rodrick Shoots. Adams claims the two captains ended up facing disciplinary action after they tried defending her in the wake of the complaint that was filed about her head tattoo. 

Craig was suspended while Shoots was terminated. Public Safety Director Lawrence Battiste said Shoots was fired for “attempting to obstruct a valid order from a superior officer, ignoring orders and using disrespectful and defiant language to a superior officer.” 

Battiste said Craig, on the other hand, received a 30-day suspension for “insubordination, failure to follow orders from a superior officer and failure to investigate, document and report a violation of MFRD policy.”

Both captains are set to appeal the decisions this month. 

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: January 10, 2023


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