In October, a photo of a bicyclist giving President Trump's motorcade the middle finger went viral. Now, the woman who flipped off Trump is suing her employer, claiming that she was fired from her job shortly after publicly identifying herself as the person in the photo.
"I was fired from my job for flipping off @realDonaldTrump," Juli Briskman tweeted Wednesday. "Today, I filed suit with @GellerLawyers [and] @protctdemocracy because what happened to me was unlawful and un-American."
Briskman says that she had been working on the marketing team at Akima LLC, which does contract work for the government, for around six-and-a-half months when she revealed that she was the person seen flipping off the president in the viral photo. She says she was then told that she'd run afoul of the company's social media policies, and was subsequently fired. CNN reached out to Akima for comment.
"My finger said what I was feeling," Briskman told CNN at the time. "I thought that it would probably get back to my company eventually."
In a statement, Briskman's attorney said that her termination is a violation of Virginia employment law, and cited an earlier instance in which another employee of the company was not disciplined for publishing anti-liberal comments on Facebook.
“Juli’s expression of disapproval of the President is fundamental political speech protected by both the United States Constitution and Virginia state law,” Maria Simon said in a statement released by Protect Democracy. “Akima’s actions — forcing Juli to resign out of fear of unlawful retaliation by the government — violated the basic tenets of Virginia employment law. Ms. Briskman chose in her private time and in her capacity as a private citizen to express her disapproval of President Trump by extending her middle finger.”
Protect Democracy, which is working with Briskman on her lawsuit, cited 2017 incident wherein a senior director of operations at Akima allegedly left a Facebook comment that referred to somebody else as "a f*cking Libtard *sshole." According to Protect Democracy, that employee's Facebook profile publicly identified him as an employee at Akima, and yet he was allegedly allowed to delete the comment in question and keep working at the company.
Briskman and her lawyers allege that she was fired not because her hand gesture was obscene, but because the gesture was anti-Trump and, as such, that Akima feared it would spark retaliation from the federal government.
"Ms. Briskman’s suit uses the contrast between her treatment and the Senior Director’s treatment to establish that she was forced to resign because of concerns about upsetting the federal government — not the supposed obscenity of the middle finger," Protect Democracy said. "It then underscores the suit’s critical importance by explaining why permitting business to fire employees out of fear of unlawful government retaliation imperils the freedom of speech and ultimately American democracy by forcing employees of government contractors to make an impossible choice: their livelihood or their freedom of speech."
In her lawsuit, Briskman also says that Akima promised to give her four weeks of severance pay when they fired her, but ultimately only gave her two. She's asking the courts to award her those additional two weeks of pay and, additionally, for Akima to cover her legal fees. In total, Briskman is seeking $2,692.30 in damages from her former employer, according to USA Today.
After Briskman, a 50-year-old mother of two, lost her job at Akima, her friends set up a GoFundMe campaign to help her pay her bills while she looks for another job. As of this writing, that campaign has raised over $135,000.