Flipping Off The President, And Proud Of It (With A Poll!)

Remember Julie Briskman? She flipped off the President’s motorcade in  November, and was so proud of that eloquent statement that she posted a photo of her gesture on Facebook. He company, A government contractor, promptly fired her. I wrote at the time,

Flipping a middle figure to the President’s motorcade is protected speech. Flipping said finger to the President when one works for a company dependent on government contracts and plastering photos of one doing this on social media is not what I would call wise, and Julie Briskman should have reasonably expected her employers to admonish her to keep the company’s public image in mind the next time she was tempted to bite the hand that feeds it. Akima LLC, however, a Virginia-based company, fired her.

They have every right to do this, but it was a gross and cruel over-reaction. Worse, the company wasn’t even honest about its rationale,telling her that company policy forbade an employee having  anything ‘lewd’ or ‘obscene’ on your social media. Sure. “The finger” is undeniably rude. Obscene it’s not.

But Julie doesn’t read Ethics Alarms (obviously!), and sued for wrongful termination. Last week, Virginia judge Penney Azcarate judge dismissed Briskman’s wrongful termination claim. Her lawyers had claimed that Briskman’s employers violated public policy by forcing her resignation.

As I said, I don’t think the company was particularly fair to Briskman, who is young and like most of the resistance, lacks judgment and proportion. I doubt that anyone would take it out on her employers that they employed a rude and immature jerk as a marketing analyst. It need not have fired her. Still, Virginia is an employment at will state where you can be fired for having an obnoxious laugh. As Ethics Alarms has held here frequently regarding professors who post racist rants on social media and episodes like that of Adam Smith, the so-called Chick-Fil-A Video Vigilante who verbally abused a Chick-Fil-A employee and posted the video of him doing so, companies have every right to regard an employee whose public behavior embarrasses their employers as a liability, and to treat them as such. It isn’t kind, and it isn’t compassionate, but as I wrote about Smith,

“I can’t blame anyone who doesn’t want to be represented by a man whose judgment was this wretched and who is best known for bullying an innocent minimum wage employee because he didn’t like her boss’s take on gay marriage. Actions have consequences, and while the cumulative effects of the foolish and damning video have been excessive, no individual component of it is. Someone should be kind, obey the Golden Rule and give Smith a shot at redemption, but no one individual is ethically obligated to do so. Smith’s sad fate, which extends to his family, is still his own doing, and he alone is accountable.”

Personally, I regard Smith’s verbal attack on an innocent, minimum wage employee worse than flipping the finger to the President, but I’m not sure my late father would feel that way, nor a lot of other people who don’t like public flag burnings and Tony presenters shouting “Fuck Trump!” on TV. The judge is correct: firing Briskman may be unethical, but it’s not illegal.  Naturally her lawyer has a typically apocalyptic piece of hyperbole to offer reporters (who would also be fired if they publicly flipped off Trump;s motorcade). Protect Democracy counsel Cameron Kistler and Geller Law Group lawyer Maria Simon issued this statement:

“Juli Briskman’s case is about democracy and the grave threat facing all Americans if keeping our jobs relies on our unconditional silence and support of the government in power.”

No, it’s about an employee of a government contractor embarrassing it and causing bad publicity by engaging in an incoherent and gratuitous demonstration of incivility and disrespect toward the leader of the government with which her former employer was required to maintain civil relations as a matter of sound business practice.

If you were Julie’s employer, what would you do?


Source: ABA Journal


50 thoughts on “Flipping Off The President, And Proud Of It (With A Poll!)

  1. “Juli Briskman’s case is about democracy and the grave threat facing all Americans if keeping our jobs relies on our unconditional silence and support of the government in power.”

    Nothing of jobs relying on unconditional support of an ideology that’s in favor?

    She should hear what James Woods, et al, have to say.

    Anywho, that reminds me of someone trying (but failing miserably) to earn something similar to the arguably high praise Attorney Sonny Seiler (Jack Thompson) elicited from John Cusack’s John Kelso in Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil:

    “I do believe that man can weave bullshit into Egyptian cotton.”

  2. I have absolutely no problem with her employer terminating her, both as a quality control step-somebody with this kind of impulsive and self-aggrandizing bad judgment is not somebody I would want participating in my business-and as a clear message to the rest of my workforce that certain types of foolishness outside your work cubicle can have significant repercussions inside the office. Especially for people who want to engage in offensive conduct directed at other people with significant connections to my customer base. I’m glad to hear that the Fairfax County judges continue to apply the employment at will doctrine, despite its significant erosion.

  3. I chose ‘suspend without pay’. She violated the trust the company placed in her, and there MUST be consequences. Firing seems a little extreme. However, given the state of the nation right now, I’m not at all surprised.

  4. Unfortunately my catholic forgive and try to guide attitude makes it very hard for me to fire anyone unless they continue to do the same thing again and again. If I was quicker to fire unsatisfactory employees, I might have not had them run my business into the ground when I was hospitalized. Oh well old habits die hard. I would try to teach her error of her ways!

  5. I would issue a statement that we do not endorse or cindone her behavior. She would be told that she has destroyed any chance at promotion and relegate her to low profile clerk tasks.

  6. “Briskman … is young and like most of the resistance, lacks judgment and proportion.”

    So what? She’s old enough to be fairly highly compensated by a company that’s sucking at the teat of the government the guy she flipped of heads up.

    And these days, when is someone old enough to be considered an adult? Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and all the other people killed by police become children at the time of their deaths. I don’t remember being considered a child when I was in high school. When we got in trouble, we were in trouble. We could drink at eighteen in NY state when I was in college. Were we children when we were draft age at eighteen? When some of our contemporaries were shipped off to Vietnam. Were eighteen year olds children when they fought and died in WWII? Isn’t twenty-one the age of majority? Why is anyone who’s presumably out of college and in the work force too young to act responsibly and face the consequences of her actions? Beats the hell out of me. What’s the new age of majority? Forty? Grrr.

    • I was 17 and 2 months old when I was a crewman on a ballistic missile submarine during the Cold War, with a secret clearance, and instructions to shoot to death anyone attempting to enter the exclusion zone during missile loadout at Charleston, SC.

      • Minimum age to join the navy is 17; length of boot camp is 8 weeks; length of basic sub school is 8 weeks and we are already at 17 years and four months.

        • I wrote that in a rush. I’d appreciate you not accusing me of lying, though. I went to RTC GLakes in Oct 85, about a week after turning 17. BESS in Jan 86, then the Kamehameha Gold crew at the end of February. I did my first enlistment on that boat, my second began back at Great Lakes at hospital corps school, then NAS Jax, then preventive med school, then Roosevelt Roads naval hospital, then took a stab at BUD/S, but ended up NPQ for diving duty, then FMSS Camp Lejeune, then 1st BN, 2nd marines, 2DMARDIV Camp Lejeune as an 8404.

    • “What’s the new age of majority? Forty?”
      Yeah, unless you want an abortion. In that case, you’re a world-weary old sout by 11.

  7. She is young and stupid, but that is when people make the biggest mistakes due to peer pressure. The suspension without the generous pay by many standards she thought would pay school loans and pay for that trip to Haiti is a wake up slap. Along with that is a stern chat about adult behavior and public release about how the company expects civil behavior of all its employees. Now she may quit in a fit of pique, and the company is well rid of her. If she repeats the idiocy, immediately fire her. There is a chance she might have learned the difference between public and private behavior and not to trust social media. There is a larger chance she would double down.

    I’m not saying the company HAD to give a second chance. We don’t know if she already had any strikes against her. I just think the decision would rest on a 50-50 for the second chance based on her previous behavior. Then can her if she fails to learn after the warning.

  8. I voted for both fire her and suspend without pay. I think that would be true no matter who the target of the behavior happened to be. Acting contemptuously toward people is a habit – if someone does it to one person he or she will do it to another.

    Regarding the suspend with pay option, I’d be willing to listen to some proposal by which the offender could show contrition. This would have to be something more than stating, “I’m contrite.”

  9. Make it absolutely clear that any criticism, public or private, of the current regime by any employee will result in instant dismissal, lest the company be punished for it.

    • What!? Since when is flipping the bird at the President Ok? Doesn’t the company’s reputation matter more than one employee’s need for an emotional outburst? Can’t people behave like adults in public any more?

      I voted that she be suspended and given another chance, by the way.

      Recall, Sue, that a rodeo clown was fired for wearing an Obama mask.

      If you were being sarcastic, then ‘never mind’, but the word ‘regime’ makes me think you’re not…(sarcasm is sometimes so hard to gauge in print).

      • The rodeo clown incident was especially disturbing because the rodeo had given the same treatment to previous presidents, a completely exonerating fact that didn’t seem to matter one bit.

    • I voted for firing her. Not because of the current ‘regime’, but because her company relies on government contracts. The government is their customer. In real life, where most of us live, flipping off a customer and bragging about it on social media would result in a dismissal. To think otherwise is ridiculous, and proof of bias and selective reasoning.

      • Exactly. Any criticism of the current regime – their customer – could lead to contracts being cancelled.

        • That is because despite the supposed mechanisms in place to ensure taxpayer money goes to the most efficient supplier, regardless of political considerations, the US government is now being run as a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump Enterprises. Like a private business, where what the CEO says goes, with no interference from a wholly compliant Board of Directors.

          The fear of financial disaster due to an employee murmuring any critique of the current regime is a very real one, and the threat wholly credible. Such a public display of disapproval has to result in an Example being made, just as if the customer was a private business, as many commenters have remarked.

            • Trump Derangement Disorder is a powerful, baffling affliction that does not discriminate on the basis of intelligence. It’s replaced AIDS, heart disease, cancer, and the environment as the public health crisis of our time.

          • Curious what other job would allow an employee to flip off a customer, any customer, without repercussion? None I’ve worked for sure. Outside of being disrespectful to the customer, it shows disrepect for the employer. Even worse to brag about it on social media, confident that you’re right, and confident that nothing will happen to you.

  10. I am surprised by the number of millennials who grow up in the age of social media, who think they can post whatever they want without consequences

  11. I look at the termination of one’s employment the same way I look at capital punishment. It should be the last resort punishment and used only for the most heinous offenses. This is after working under both the “at will” and the preferable “just cause termination” scenarios. Sure, Briskman made a stupid move, and I’m glad the judge through her suit out. However, I bet had she been threatened by her employer with termination if it ever happened again and severely punished for this episode she would never act so foolishly in the future. I realize actions have consequences, but it is too easy nowadays for employers to dispose of their employees. Everyone, in my opinion, deserves to be fired only for “just cause.” Remember, this is how people house, clothe, and feed themselves. After all, the company is just a thing, but employees are human beings. We’ve all done stupid things, and everybody deserves a second chance after facing the consequences of their questionable actions. I know many will disagree, but I bet most of those who do have never been unjustly fired. Let me tell you, it sucks. I know I face a backlash of cruel replies but this Conservative Republican and Trump lover says error on the side of people, not the thing. MAGA!

    • Welcome to EA, make yourself at home. Coffee is in the break room, but I would not eat those donuts!

      Do you really think she would learn? I see this as signature significance of a character flaw, actually several.

      We protect kids from consequences too often and too old (guilty!)

      This makes them unstable, and such a person would be fired where I work. Have been, I should say.

    • You make good points but the company is not just a thing. It is the vehicle through which many people feed and clothe themselves. What if the stunt resulted in the loss of a contract that caused others to be laid off. I chose not to terminate for many of the reasons that you spelled out. Moreover, I dont believe a suspension or stern warning would change her much. I would just make it clear that a person with such poor judgement will never advance within the firm. She can the choose to stagnate professionally with my firm or take her lack of judgement skills to another firm.

  12. I voted for firing. This would not be tolerated anywhere I have worked, since entering the workforce as a 13 year old.

    Not just due to respect for the office (though that does come into play) but because it is bad for the business. Never give customers a reason to leave, and your competitors something to grandstand about!

  13. I’m just going to flat out say, I would do what was in the best interests of the company. Personally, I’d prefer to give a stern warning and a statement distancing the company from it, and I would hope that in a sane world, all else being equal, that would suffice.

    But I absolutely should have the option of firing her if she was otherwise a problem and this was the last straw; if my field was competitive or worked closely with the executive branch and I had reason to think this might cost the company a contract; if my phones were ringing off the hook because of her and it was pissing me right off…

    There are plenty of good reasons to fire her, and there are also reasons I might ignore some of those good reasons if she was a valuable asset. I’m her (hypothetical) employer, not her mother. If she wants to be an asshole on her own time, not representing the company, and her value outweighs the problems from her off-the-clock exploits, my job is to run a business.

    (Noting, of course, that this specific incident is not illegal and is firmly on the “being a jerk” end of the unethical spectrum. You can call “King’s Pass” if you want, but surely we can agree that there’s a certain level of minor unethical behavior where the King’s Pass is more the Efficient Clerk’s Julie Principle, whether or not you think this qualifies.)

    I’m getting really sensitive these days to the power of the people intentionally or unintentionally chilling free speech (usually it’s the other side of the aisle, but free speech is free speech). I believe wholeheartedly that businesses should be able to fire anyone, at any time, but I think whether they do it should be a really careful consideration with the businesses interests in mind.

  14. Having been fired for good reason and at another time for a bad reason, I’d fire her in a New York minute. Leaving a person in place to stagnate is unethical and really corrosive to a work environment. Unfortunately, organizations do it all the time. You know, putting someone on double secret probation. Awful.

  15. I voted to give her a second chance, but after reading so many comments behind harsher votes, I am not not so comfortable with my leniency.

    Looking at the picture again, I realized that she did not take the picture of her self. This coupled with my experience cycling(and steering with one hand) indicates that this photo opp was pre-planned/staged/timed… which if true makes the post on Facebook more than just an immature outburst, and merits harsher consequences, yes?

  16. Good point, Mark. It is a pretty sharp photo for a bicyclist moving beside a moving vehicle, so careful not to show her face.

    It is OPportune for Briskman to be bicycling on the road next to the slowing motorcade, OPportune for her to pull off the road immediately afterward, OPportune for someone to be there to take her picture, OPportune for them to post it, OPportune for Julie to come forward and self-identify. The only thing that isn’t a “photo op” in this scene is the absence of a motorcycle police escort. She was close enough to have been an assassin had that finger been on the grip of a gun supporting the trigger guard (the bulletproof glass of her target notwithstanding).

  17. Based on the facts pieces together from articles about the incident, she wasn’t so much “standing up to government power.” More like:

    Oh, look, Trump’s Motorcade. And a bunch of reporters following!
    (positions bike in front of photographers)
    Hey press, I’m flipping off Trump! Did you get that? I’ll hold this pose for a minute!
    (motorcade passes by)
    Hey Trump, you lock up kids in cages and stuff! F you! I’m speaking truth to power! All you guys getting this? Crap, they’re all passing me!
    (petals furiously)
    (gets back in front of cameras)
    Hey look, I’m still flipping off Trump! Just wanted to make sure you see me in case you missed it the first time! Hey Trump, F you! This is just like Tiananmen Square! I’m just a citizen who happened to get caught by the press in a candid and magical moment!
    (huff, puff)
    Yeah you better run, coward!
    (motorcade drives away)
    (goes home and Googles herself)

    • In other words, reports say that she was attempting to follow/chase down the motorcade, and pretty clearly playing to the camera.

      Based on THAT, I’d lean towards firing her. Assuming that she’s easily replaced by someone with less of an angry/impulsive personality. If she has some sort of unique and rare skill set (doubtful) I would lean towards giving another chance.

  18. I voted suspension without pay, and being told that this is your last chance as I am a reasonably forgiving person. However, I would not condemn any who fired her outright. I have always worked in “at will” jobs and for me, the threat of being fired always kept me on my toes, giving the best I had. It got me promotions, better pay, and respect from those who think all millennials are useless by proving them wrong. Firing someone who embarrassed the company is an excellent reminder, both to that person and the rest of the company, that one’s behavior off the job, work ethic on the job, and sense of propriety (I.e. don’t flip people off in the first place and if you do, don’t publicize it) makes a difference.

  19. I would explain to her why she was wrong, and give her another chance. But my “explanation” would go something like this:

    “Julie, I understand your opposition to the President and you have a perfect right to express that opinion, even to the extent of being caught on camera making a rude gesture at his motorcade. I support your right to express yourself to the President in any legal way.

    But this company gets most of its business from the federal government, and that procurement process, right now, is entirely in the hands of the Trump administration. Which means, in effect, you flipped off our customer, even if it was somewhat removed from the actual purchasing decision. That is never a good business decision. Ever.

    Actions like yours reflect badly on this company. You are hereby advised that another such incident will result in your immediate dismissal, along with a negative recommendation. You have a perfect right to ignore this advice and express your opinion in legal, First Amendment-protected ways, but not at the expense of this company and its shareholders.

    Now, sign this document acknowledging the substance of this meeting. It will be made a part of your permanent record. I leave it up to you how you reconcile your First Amendment rights with the right of this company not to be embarrassed by its employee’s activism. I trust you are mature enough, and have learned enough from this episode to achieve that balance.

    That is all.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.