Kay’Ana Adams had been with the Mobile Fire Department Maryvale station for nine months, according to WKRG. However, after she got a new tattoo on the back of her head, the fire department decided to relieve her of her duties.
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 claims that the city eventually gave her a way out, which was to grow her hair to cover up the tattoo. Even though Adams claimed she complied, a different complaint about her overgrown hair was filed a few weeks later. According to the Black woman, her hair growth was in violation of the City’s policy.
“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 changed its policy to prohibit head tattoos above the neckline three months after Adams had her head tattooed, according to WKRG. A captain at her station took a photo of the back of Adam’s head in November. The tattoo was no longer visible. Despite her efforts to avoid violating the initial and new tattoo policies, Adams claims she was fired on the day the captain took the 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.
Adams stated that, in addition to filing a grievance in response to the tattoo complaint, she also filed two complaints after noticing incidents of harassment and antagonism. Two male firefighters made sexist remarks as part of this. However, Adams was fired before she received a response to the hair complaint grievance she filed.
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.