Privacy rights, gay rights clash in resignation of Mozilla boss

The resignation of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich because he donated $1,000 six years ago to the effort to ban same-sex marriage in California, has renewed several debates: Should disclosure requirements be loosened? Is there a free-speech component to a legal campaign contribution? What kind of personal opinions disqualify a person from being CEO?

Bill Maher, the liberal humorist, suggested on his show over the weekend that the pressure on Eich to resign was a step over a line.

“If this is the gay rights movement today — hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else — then count me out,” Andrew Sullivan, a proponent of legalization of same-sex marriage, wrote on his blog.

Will he now be forced to walk through the streets in shame? Why not the stocks? The whole episode disgusts me – as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. If this is the gay rights movement today – hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else – then count me out. If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.

Over the weekend, several prominent conservatives also pushed back against the “resignation.”

It’s an example of “the new facism,” Newt Gingrich said.

“Eich is just the highest profile victim of a status quo that threatens countless workers,” counters Slate’s Jamelle Bouie.

And of course, employment discrimination against LGBT Americans is a real and ongoing problem. According to a 2011 report from the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, at least 15 percent of gay Americans have faced discrimination and harassment at the workplace on the basis of their orientation, and at least 8 percent report being passed over for a job or fired. A whopping 90 percent of transgender individuals report some sort of harassment on the job. It’s doesn’t minimize Eich’s situation (if you’re opposed to his resignation) to note that gay people are far more likely to face discrimination than opponents of same-sex marriage.

In any case, there’s nothing conservatives can do about Eich’s resignation. But they can join with labor activists and others to push for greater worker protections, like the Employee Non-Discrimination Act. For as much as employer flexibility is important to a dynamic economy, it’s also true that no one should fear firing for the people they love, the identity they claim, or the donations they make.

Simply put, if conservatives are frustrated by the treatment of Eich for his role in Proposition 8, then they should be outraged by the treatment of ordinary people at the hands of the people who employ them.

“If he had apologized years ago, this would be a non-issue,” said Hampton Catlin, an app developer who first called attention to Eich’s campaign contribution.

  • MrE85

    The day gay principals don’t have to resign their jobs at Catholic high schools, I’ll start worrying about tech CEOs.

  • Dave
  • KTN

    What he did with his own money, on his own time is his business, and is certainly protected speech – but the thought police jumped in and forced a resignation because their delicate sensibilities were offended. How about thickening your skin a bit.
    Don’t like that the CEO of Mozilla made a donation to a cause you oppose, then switch your browser.

    • Joe

      Don’t like the way your CEO is representing your company and your brand? Get a new CEO, give the old one a golden parachute. Give Fox News something to cry about.
      It’s not just Mozilla users, it’s Mozilla employees who by no fault of their own are stuck with that idiot as their boss by professional association.
      It wasn’t the “thought police”, it was the shareholders and stakeholders, as always. If you are prized for your executive ability, make better executive decisions for your business and your brand.

      • KTN

        He was not representing Mozilla, he was expressing his own thoughts (good, bad, or indifferent) – big difference, and one that is protected by the 1st.
        Sure, CEO’s should be held to a higher standard, but to say a company leader had better have only thoughts that are held by shareholders or employees is wrong. It’s called the market place of ideas, and sometimes those ideas are in conflict, but that should not mean a guy loses his job, again because of delicate sensibilities.

        • Dave

          CEOs don’t operate in a vacuum. Mozilla is currently seeking alternate funding, and Eich at the helm, with his “thoughts” probably wasn’t helping.

        • Joe

          As far as I understand it he is still free to donate to Proposition 8 campaigns, is he not? How did he lose his right to free speech?
          I don’t feel sorry for people who lose privileges delegated to them from people who have an interest in giving such a person the privilege in the first place.
          While it is unfortunate that he lost his privilege of being a CEO, people lose their jobs for far more arbitrary things posted on facebook that “ruin the brand” of the company employing that person, and for far more arbitrary jobs that couldn’t be considered by any stretch of the imagination to be a public figure type position.
          I’m sorry that this CEO is Not Special.

          • KTN

            If he had donated to fighting Prop 8, none of this would have happened, so his speech was curtailed because of the choice he made (it’s called the chilling effect)..

          • Joe

            How do you know that this wouldn’t have happened had he donated to fighting Prop 8?

          • KTN

            Don’t know for sure, neither do you. But if you are really going to argue this, then point me to the number of CEO’s who were ousted for giving to fighting Prop 8, I think I missed that list.

          • Joe

            I don’t know that such a list exists, but I could be wrong. However, if the CEO of a company had donated to fight prop 8 and lost their position at a company that has a strong interest in being for prop 8, it would not be surprising that they would lose that role. Also, it is not surprising that gay teachers are fired by Catholic schools when the Catholic schools pry into their private lives, because there is no legal protection for things like that re: employment.
            Unless the ENDA is what you really want…

          • Dave

            How was his speech curtailed? Please answer this question.

          • KTN

            He is no longer free to express his speech without fear of recrimination, and that is how his speech was curtailed.

          • Dave

            Freedom of speech does not imply freedom from consequences.

          • This is a common refrain; that there is a disconnect between one’s ability and right to speak, and the consequences of that speech.

            More accurately, perhaps, the question is whether the government was involved in suppressing the speech.

          • Dave

            Right, but every time I ask someone, “Did the US Government fire Brendan Eich?” I get deflections.

            It has been my experience that a lot of conservatives are massively confused about what freedom of speech means. They think it applies to non-government entities for some reason.

          • KTN

            Actually the First is what is called a negative right. What it says is Congress shall make no law infringing the right to free speech, not that you have an absolute right to free speech- a subtle but important distinction.
            In this case, the Government did nothing, the market place of ideas reacted to his speech, but the chilling effect still exists, and that is where I have an issue. To think that the CEO hold my ideals, and if not, well, then by god, they better resign is wrong on so many fronts. Better to live in a cave, then nobody is offended.

          • Dave

            You are contradicting yourself. First you say, “the market place of ideas reacted to his speech”

            Then you say, negatively, “but the chilling effect still exists”

            But isn’t that why we have a “marketplace of ideas???” What good is a marketplace where we can’t judge what’s for sale?

            Maybe conservatives should have yelled louder, but I think they really only caught wind of this issue AFTER he resigned. By that time, they had perceived some massive injustice, the many angles of which they fail to understand.

            If this had been the CEO of GM or McDonald’s or Boeing, or some other stodgy, old-economy company, there wouldn’t have been nearly the ruckus. That’s the biggest thing that conservatives don’t get.

          • Joe

            Given that the media actually gave this man his very own sob story, it would appear that his speech re: prop 8 hasn’t been curtailed at all, if anything his speech on the issue has been amplified by market forces.
            He actually got more bang for his buck than he originally thought he would, really.

          • Kassie

            There is another post on News Cut today I would love to respond to. If I did, I could lose my job. So I’m not, but no one is actually stopping me from doing it. I’m making the choice. My freedom of speech is alive and well, I’m just smart enough to not use it.

          • DavidG

            2004, a worker was fired merely for having a John Kerry sticker on her car: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/chatterbox/2004/09/bumper_sticker_insubordination.html

          • Joe

            Yep, this is America, where you can be fired for pretty much anything. This isn’t news.
            Pretty funny though that people were that scared of the threat of a Kerry Administration.
            But apparently this is a Sad Story because he must have made A Lot Of Money or Something.

        • davidz

          Mozilla as an organization is rather different than your typical corporation. Starting with the fact that it’s a non-profit, and most non-profits tend to have an ideology beyond “make as much money as possible”. Mozilla also deals with a widespread developer community — much, but certainly not all, of the code in Mozilla comes from Mozilla employees. The remainder comes from volunteers worldwide.

          The Mozilla organization has to build and maintain that community. Brendan Eich had the technical mojo to lead the organization, but had lost the credibility of some of the staff and of the volunteers. The new board members & CEO will have to deal with repairing the trust that has been lost.

          Most of the people who worked within Mozilla knew about Mr. Eich’s donations, and were willing to deal with him on a purely technical basis, which made sense given his previous roles.

          But once elevated to the CEO position, those technical responsibilities would be diminished (or else he would not have been made CEO, but made CTO or Chief Engineer, or some similar position). This is why the upswell of complaint began now and not when the donations were first disclosed.
          Yes, he has to the right to make whatever donations he wants. But those donations do reflect the character of the donor. The character of the CEO of a non-profit community based corporation also matters, more so than most other corporations.

          [[ Disclaimer — I used to work at Netscape, the place where Mozilla came from, and while I was a co-worker of Mr. Eich’s, I never had any interactions with him. But I do understand the particular oddities that come with being a part of the open source software community. It’s a different world than G.E. or Ecolab or 3M. ]]

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    I wouldn’t exactly call it facism. But to reach back into someone’s past and use a $1,000 political donation as reason to run him out of a job is…I’m not sure what exactly. I wouldn’t call it a positive. You could call it discriminating against someone for their political beliefs, which probably is not illegal but I’d say it’s a little…misguided.

    If I remember correctly there were donors allowed to keep some level of their information private. Perhaps it should be afforded both ways.

    • Around this same time, as I recall, it was revealed in the local media that Mark Madsen, then a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves — and he gave more than the Mozilla CEO did. At that time, David Brauer wrote a post on th subject of whether it should matter, generally punting on the question because he was conflicted.

      There was a good debate there, which I participated in. Of course. And it centered around sports. Did it matter than Don Lucia appeared at a Palin/McCain rally? Or that the head coach of the Vikings was at a rally for George Bush in, I presume, 2004?

      Both kept their jobs for that, losing them for the best reason to lose a job: You stink at it.

      • Dave

        Was he a player? (edit: yes)

        I think the average sports fan is less concerned about this issue than the average tech worker. It might even endear this guy to them, as I’ve noticed that sports fans are conservative more often than not.

        Moreover, I frankly couldn’t care less if a basketball player donated to pro-Prop 8. In fact, given their intelligence, I’d expect it.

      • kevinfromminneapolis

        hahaha. I seriously don’t care about other people’s donations, but admittidelyl my background is different.

  • DavidG

    Given that he’s never exactly retracted his support for Prop 8, and given the fact that the CEO is the public face of the company and pretty much determines corporate policy (subject to board approval, but then, if the board is shooting down his proposed policies, that’s pretty much a vote of no confidence, so why would either continue the relationship?), it’s certainly valid for people to question the level of commitment Moziila would have to its non-discrimination policies going forward.

  • Dave

    I would like to see this poll:

    Q: Do you support or oppose Brendan Eich’s resignation?

    follow-up

    Q: Had you ever heard of Mozilla before he resigned?

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    I was thinking more about this this morning listening to a local radio discussion from yesterday. Maybe Mozilla employees should volunteer some time working in their local legislature, where they will learn that political beliefs are a small way to define a person.

    • Joe

      Are you sure we want them near a legislature? They can have their Mozilla, but if we let them loose their purges could spread, it could be risky.

  • davehoug

    DOES the conflating of a CEO’s views with the corporation strengthen the case to allow exemption for contraceptive coverage?? Hobby Lobby and Target and many corporations face backlash for the views of the CEO so doesn’t that mean that a corporation CAN ‘have a religious basis’???
    How does the marketplace say shame on Mozilla for the view of its CEO and also say that CEO’s views on contraception have no place in corporate decision making?????

    • kevinfromminneapolis

      The market place has been saying for quite a while that the value of Firefox is diminishing.