FAIRFAX, Va. (CN) – Juli Briskman, the woman who was caught flipping off the presidential motorcade in a photograph that went viral last year, has sued her former employer for firing her, claiming it was a violation of her right to free speech.
In a 10 page complaint filed in the Fairfax County Circuit Court, Briskman claims her former employer, government contractor Akima LLC, violated her First Amendment rights when they ousted her.
But she isn’t looking for a big pay out.
Briskman has requested damages totaling just $2.692.30 – the amount of her unpaid severance.
Briskman’s now famous October 2017 ride through Sterling, Virginia was done on her own time, she contends and she “extended her middle finger as an expression of disapproval of the president,” the complaint states.
Unaware that the gesture was promptly captured by a wire service photographer, within hours of her ride, Voice of America reporter Steve Herman tweeted the photograph and the image went viral. It would later appear on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
There were no identifying features in the photograph since Briskman’s back was turned away from the camera. Though she added the photo to her Facebook and Twitter profile pages, she omitted adding it to her LinkedIn page where it might be associated with her employer.
After the Tonight show appearance, Briskman claims Akima’s human resource manager Jessica Hoke and vice president Joe Boecx asked her to stick around following an afternoon meeting.
Once alone, Hoke and Boecx informed her she was being fired for fear that the photograph would be linked to the company and as a government contractor, they “feared retaliation by the president or his administration” and that the “photograph amounted to obscene content on her Facebook page,” the complaint states.
Boecx allegedly dubbed it a “social media tattoo,” that jeopardized their brand.
Promised four weeks of pay, Briskman said she asked to resign, instead of termination recorded in her permanent files.
“[Briskman] was promised that if she resigned, defendant would not object to her request for future unemployment compensation,” the complaint states.
Following the “forced resignation,” Briskman says she was quickly escorted from the building and told she was forced to resign for violating the company’s social media policy.
According to Briskman’s attorney, Maria Simon of Gellar Law Group in Fairfax, there was another sticking point for her client.
“Prior to plaintiff’s forced resignation, as part of her duties in overseeing defendant’s social media pages, she had been notified that the senior director of operations posted on his personal Facebook page ‘You’re a fucking libtard asshole’ in response to political speech,” the complaint states.
The man identified himself as a long term employee of Akima on his page.
When Briskman notified her supervisors, she claims the employee was never terminated for his obscene speech.
In an op-ed written for The Washington Post Thursday night, Briskman defended her decision to sue.
“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, which is why I filed a lawsuit against my former employer this week,” she wrote.
Likening the censorship to behavior “familiar to people living in Egypt, Hungary, Thailand, Turkey and Russia,” Briskman called Akima’s decision to fire her a version of “autocratic capture.”
“Autocratic capture is not new to the world, but it is new to this country, and it is up to all of us to keep it from taking root. Our democracy depends on it,” Briskman wrote. “As James Madison warned in the early days of the United States, the value and efficacy of free elections depends on Americans’ equal freedom to examine the merits and demerits of the candidates. But if Americans can keep their jobs only when they refrain from criticizing the president, then that freedom is lost. And once the freedom to speak is lost, then the rest of our constitutional rights will not be far behind.”