Follow Up: Limits of Free Speech Relating to Work
Can things that you say outside of work potentially impact your employment status? Last year, I wrote about Juli Briskman’s lawsuit in Fairfax County Circuit Court. As you may recall, Ms. Briskman was riding her bicycle outside of work hours when President Trump’s motorcade passed. After the group passed, Ms. Briskman raised her middle finger in protest. A photographer happened to snap a photo of the act, and Ms. Briskman shared a copy of the image on social media.
Shortly after images of the post surfaced, Ms. Briskman’s employer (a government contractor), terminated her. Ms. Briskman claimed that the termination violated her First Amendment right to free speech. Ultimately, Judge Penny Azcarate disagreed with this position – dismissing Ms. Briskman’s suit. Judge Azcarate’s decision affirmed well-established law that employees of private businesses do not have a protected right to free speech. More specifically, those who are employed at-will can be terminated at any time and for any reason. In contrast, public employees (even those who are at-will) generally have the right to speak openly about the conditions of their jobs when the issues raised relate to matters of public concern. (i.e.: taxpayer dollars).
In an interesting twist, just last week, Ms. Briskman was elected to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. Part of her platform was based on her lawsuit and speaking freely on political issues. From a legal perspective, her new position may provide much more leeway than her previous job which gave rise to her lawsuit.
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