Thursday, April 03, 2014

Brendan Eich's resignation from Mozilla is a victory for no one

Earlier today, Mozilla announced that recently-appointed CEO Brendan Eich has resigned, both from Mozilla's for-profit arm and from the board of the non-profit foundation that controls the company. The reason for his resignation was the blowback from a $1,000 contribution that Eich made to a group supporting California's anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 (his contribution became public knowledge in 2012.)

Before I continue, a disclaimer: I worked with Brendan, Mozilla Chairwoman Mitchell Baker and Mozilla Foundation Director Bob Lisbonne at Netscape in 1995-97. In addition, I strongly support gay marriage. With that in mind, I'm very sad that Brendan was forced out of an organization that he was such an integral part of for so long, not because of any claims of mismanagement, financial irresponsibility or technical incompetence, but because of a personal belief.

If the shoe was on the other foot--if an executive who had contributed to a campaign supporting gay marriage or gay rights (like NOH8) was targeted for dismissal by opponents of gay marriage--would the members of the gay community calling for Brendan's head have supported the executive or the rights of the gay marriage opponents? I'm pretty sure that it would have been the former, and I'm very sure that their actions would be hypocritical.

Brendan had agreed that his opinions about gay marriage would play no part in how he ran Mozilla, and his opponents could point to no evidence that his opinions were even known within Mozilla prior to 2012. In addition, although I'm sure that he was paid a good salary at Mozilla, he could have become far wealthier by going to work for totally for-profit, pre-IPO company. Instead, he chose to work on open source projects that would increase the common good for everyone.

All of us have opinions and beliefs that other people disagree with. For example, I support a woman's right to have an abortion, an opinion that's wildly unpopular in parts of the U.S. However, unless I was working for a company with a strong publicly stated position on the topic, like Chick-Fil-A or Hobby Lobby, I would expect that my belief should have no impact on either my employment or how I do my job. By forcing Brendan out, supporters of gay marriage have paradoxically given more power to opponents of gay rights, women's rights and a host of other issues, who want to force people who don't share their beliefs out of companies.

I'm also clearly disappointed by Mitchell Baker's blog post today announcing Brendan's resignation. Here's a quote:
We didn’t act like you’d expect Mozilla to act. We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry. We must do better.
Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech. And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.
Free speech, of course, cuts both ways. As a lawyer, Mitchell knows that Brendan had a perfect right to make that contribution. If Mozilla had dismissed Brendan on the grounds of his contribution, the company would have been guilty of religious discrimination under Federal law. So, Brendan had to "voluntarily" resign, for the good of the organization, to correct the "mistake" of appointing him CEO. However, the appointment wasn't a mistake--the people who made the appointment knew all about his contribution. Baker and the Mozilla Foundation board should have stood behind him. Now, however, we know how Mozilla will respond to external pressure in the future--with cowardice.
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