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Ala. firefighter fired for head tattoo, hairstyle violations

Former Mobile Fire Department firefighter Kay’Ana Adams said she was “blindsided” by her termination after growing her hair out to cover the ink


By Rachel Engel
FireRescue1 Staff

MOBILE, Ala. — Former Mobile Fire Department firefighter Kay’Ana Adams filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) after she was fired for a head tattoo, despite growing out her hair to hide it.

Adams had worked for the Mobile Fire Department for nine months when she got a tattoo on the back of her head in June 2022 that she didn’t believe violated department policy, which prohibits “tattoos on the face or neck,” WKRG reported.

Adams noted new recruits were joining the department who had tattoos that seemed to violate the policy.

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

However, a complaint was filed against Adams, and the department said she had the option to grow her hair out to cover the tattoo. Weeks later, another complaint was made about her hair not being in compliance with the city’s policy.

Shortly after, the department changed its tattoo policy, specifically prohibiting head tattoos.

In November, a captain at the MFD took a picture of the back of Adams’ head, which she says showed that her tattoo was no longer visible. She was fired the next day, she said.

“Definitely blindsided, I never thought it would come to this, especially considering I was in compliance,” she said. “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. What’s behind me shouldn’t affect the work that’s in front of me.”

Adams told WKRG she believes her termination is also related to her speaking out during her time with the department about alleged sexist comments being made, and an incident that happened while she was undergoing training at the fire academy.

During rope week, several people were discussing and attempting to tie nooses, Adams said, which prompted her to say something to the group.

“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,’” she said. She also confided in Captains Jason Craig and Rodrick Shoots about the incident. All three are members of the Black Progressive Firefighters Association.

Both captains were disciplined for speaking out regarding Adams’ hair and head tattoo – Craig was suspended, and Shoots was fired.

In a written statement, Public Safety Director Lawrence Battiste said Shoots was terminated for “attempting to obstruct a valid order from a superior officer, ignoring orders and using disrespectful and defiant language to a superior officer.” And Craig was suspended for 30 days for “insubordination, failure to follow orders from a superior officer, and failure to investigate, document and report a violation of MFRD policy.”

Shoots is appealing his termination in a Jan. 17 hearing. Craig is also appealing his suspension in a Jan. 19 hearing.