Cyclist Who Flipped Off Trump Sues Former Employer
I am sure that we all remember the photo that was taken of a woman flipping the bird to POTUS Trump’s motorcade in Virginia. The photo went viral and as a result, the Virginia woman was forced to resign from her job over the incident. Now that bird flipping Virginia woman is taking her former employer to court and suing them on the grounds that they violated her right to free speech.
Violating Social Media Policy
At no point was it apparent that the woman in the photo was, in fact, Juli Briskman, but Juli did post the photo to both her personal Facebook and Twitter feeds. It should be noted that Briskman did refrain from posting the picture to her LinkedIn page so there could be no connection between her employer, government contractor Akima LLC. This precaution on Briskman’s part was not good enough for Akima and the company informed Briskman that she was being fired for the obscene gesture.
Freedom of Speech
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads as follows:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
So the question becomes – How can Briskman make the argument that her First Amendment rights were violated when she was fired from the company Akima and not by a government job? Briskman’s argument is that Akima’s fear of retaliation by the Trump Administration equated to a First Amendment violation.
Briskman stated to the Washington Post on the 5th of April,
“The First Amendment bars retaliation against me by Trump. But Trump doesn’t need to punish me for my speech if fear of him spurs my employer to do it. And a private employer can’t suppress my freedom of expression on my own time out of fear of illegal government retaliation without violating Virginia employment law.”
Can You Be Fired For a Social Media Post?
The lawsuit filed by Brinksman has already grabbed the attention of the media but if she will succeed remains to be seen. Virginia is an “at-will employment state,” which simply means an employee can be fired for almost any reason, even political speech. What does this men? Theoretically, a person that was fired for violating a company’s social media policy by flipping POTUS the bird could be a legal firing.
Briskman does have another point to argue related to Akima’s stated reason for firing her. Akim stated that Briskman was fired due to her violation of the company’s social media policy, it does not appear that the company has applied and enforced the policy equally among all employees. Briskman has stated the actions of another employee of Akima that made his connection to the company very apparent as he referred to someone as a “f**king libtard a**hole” on his Facebook page. The man in question was reprimanded, deleted the post, and consequently was allowed to keep his job.
Briskman’s lawsuit is not seeking all that much in way of monetary compensation, it does seem to be more based in principle. Briskman does have a real fear of the effects this type of censorship could have on our free society. Briskman has requested damages totaling just $2.692.30 – the amount of her unpaid severance.
If you think you were unjustly fired, or you are worried about violating the law in letting an employee go, consult Jones Brown PLLC who can advise you on the applicable law.
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