Juli Briskman lost her job with a government contractor a few days later after she raised her middle finger at President Trump’s motorcade in October. “Criticism of our leaders should be encouraged,” she said.
A Virginia woman who lost her job with a government contractor after she was photographed extending her middle finger at President Trump’s motorcade last year has sued her former employer for wrongful termination.
Juli Briskman directed the gesture toward a string of black sport utility vehicles that zoomed by her on her bicycle on Oct. 28, as Mr. Trump’s motorcade was leaving Trump National Golf Course in Sterling, Va. Reporters and photographers in a car behind her captured the moment, which quickly spread online and became a source of many jokes on late-night television.
But Ms. Briskman’s employer, Akima L.L.C., did not find it funny.
When she returned to work the following week, she said, company executives told her she needed to resign. Ms. Briskman, 50, had violated the company’s social media policy on obscenity by sharing the image on Facebook and Twitter, they told her, according to the lawsuit filed on Wednesday in Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia.
The executives also feared blowback from the Trump administration, Ms. Briskman said the executives told her.
“I was fired from my job because my employer feared unconstitutional retaliation,” Ms. Briskman said Thursday afternoon. “But on a larger scale, I feel that our democracy is being threatened.”
Her lawyers assert that Ms. Briskman’s gesture was “core political speech” protected by Virginia law and the Constitution. She is seeking $2,692 for two weeks of severance she said she was promised but never received, as well as compensation for legal fees.
“Criticism of our leaders should be encouraged,” Ms. Briskman said Thursday on Twitter .
Akima, which has government contracts in areas that include network operations, cybersecurity and national security, did not respond to a request for comment.
Virginia is an at-will state , meaning employers can freely fire an employee at any time and for any reason. There are a few exceptions, such as when a termination violates federal discrimination laws.
One of her lawyers, Maria Simon, said on Thursday afternoon that she believed Ms. Briskman’s case fell into one of the exceptions.
“Juli was on her own free time on a Saturday and it was a peaceful protest,” Ms. Simon said. “This was not done during work. The picture was taken of her. She is being fired for what she was doing peacefully on her own time.”
In an interview in November, Ms. Briskman said she threw her left hand in the air in a spur-of-the-moment gesture to express her displeasure with Mr. Trump. She said she did not know how many people saw it, other than a Secret Service agent in a vehicle who she believed glanced over at her.
But many people did end up seeing it. After the photo was shared widely online that weekend, Ms. Briskman said she posted it on Facebook and Twitter. Neither account identified her as an Akima employee, where she was a marketing analyst.
She decided it would be a good idea to alert a human resources official at Akima about the photo on Monday, when she returned to work. She also told her boss later that night when Jimmy Fallon discussed the photo on “The Tonight Show.”
The next day, according to her lawsuit, company executives called her into a meeting. A vice president of the company told her that the photo had become a “social media tattoo” on Akima’s reputation, and she was told she was out of a job.
Ms. Briskman said on Thursday that she has another job. “Whether I landed on my feet or not is besides the point,” she said. “It doesn’t change the fact that they fired me in violation of Virginia policy.”