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