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Woman fired for online middle-finger picture. Is that legal?

On Behalf of | Nov 10, 2017 | Employee Rights

There’s no question that Judi Briskman has a lot of supporters. In just the past few days, a “GoFundMe” page set up on her behalf (but not with her authorization) has collected nearly $50,000. Why is she the focus of attention; because she lost her job with a government contractor. The company says she violated policy by posting a shot of herself presenting a middle-finger salute as her profile picture on two social media outlets.

That’s not the entire story. The target of the salute was President Trump’s motorcade, though you likely would not know that unless you’d read about the incident in the news. Also, you can’t tell who the saluter is. Her back is to the camera. Still, when she gave her employer a heads up about the situation, the 50-year-old single mother of two lost her job. Is that legal? Don’t the First Amendment and federal law protect her?

Free speech has limits

The answer to that question is complicated. Consulting an experienced federal employment law attorney is recommended to get a clearer answer.

While the language of the First Amendment is quite succinct, the Supreme Court has ruled that there are limits to its protection. One of those limits is that if you work for a private company, which a government contractor is, your employer may be within its rights to enforce a company code-of-conduct.

Briskman says that’s what her former employer is claiming – that she violated its policy against posting “obscene malicious or threatening content” on social media. Remember, though, she isn’t identifiable in the shot and there are no references to her former company on the sites.

There is no indication from media reports that Briskman is seeking to challenge the action by her employer – though it is apparent others in the online world think she has a case.

No, Briskman reportedly is looking forward to taking a long-planned vacation – some time of which might be spent looking at job offers that have been extended to her since she achieved her moment in the virtual spotlight.


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