Juli Briskman is out of a job. The 50-year-old mother of two became a national hero for anti-Trump advocates when she gave President Donald Trump the middle finger as she bicycled along a road in Sterling, Virginia. Trump was returning from a golf game when he encountered the middle fingered salute. Now, her employer government contractor Akima LLC has fired her in a move that she says is both political and arbitrary. Briskman was a marketing and communications employee for Akima and the company clearly decided that flipping off the President was not an optimal marketing strategy for a government contractor. Brishman only worked for the company for six months.
We have previously discussed the issue of when it is appropriate to punishment people for conduct outside of the work place. We have followed cases where people have been fired after boorish or insulting conduct once their names and employers are made known. (here and here and here and here).
I find Briskman’s profane gesture to be obnoxious and disrespectful. However, it is also political speech and was not connected to the company. However, Briskman did not post the picture and on the following Monday went to her supervisors to warn them about the story building on the Internet. The company promptly fired her and said that she violated the company’s social media policy by using the photo as her profile picture on Twitter and Facebook. However, she noted that these social media sites did not mention the company, though her Linkedin page does refer to the company.
Heavy.com says that Briskman is actually a Sunday school teacher. She is a graduate of is a graduate of Ohio State University, Johns Hopkins and Georgetown University. She also participated in the march against Trump before his inauguration and carried a sign outside with CIA building with a sign that said, “Not my President.”
Briskman raises a troubling accusation that a male colleague had posted lewd comments on Facebook that actually feature the company but was not fired. He was allowed to simply delete the post calling someone “a fucking Libtard asshole” and received a reprimand.
It is concerning that an employee can be fired for posting an image on a site not connected to or referring to a company. There is a growing fear that companies have become “little brothers” who can punish employees for their political associations and activities. However, this is an “at-will” employment state and her notoriety had pulled the company into a national controversy.
As will come as no surprise to many on this blog, I would prefer that the company refrain from punishing political speech despite my view of Briskman as engaging in a juvenile act. However, this is no easy case. The Constitution’s free speech protections are directed at government action not private action. As a government contractor, Akima did not want to be associated with someone who showed open contempt for the President of the United States. Briskman still maintains that she is proud of her display and conduct.
Where do you think the line should be drawn?