By Sheri Pan – Edited by Corey Omer
On April 3, Mozilla Corporation (“Mozilla”), a subsidiary of the non-profit Mozilla Foundation most widely known for producing the Firefox browser, announced that its CEO of less than two weeks, Brendan Eich, has resigned. The resignation followed pressure from Mozilla employees, bloggers, and developers who opposed his appointment in light of a $1000 donation that he made in 2008 in support of Proposition 8, a ballot measure that sought to ban gay marriage in California.
Both Eich and Mozilla tried to quell the controversy by making statements assuring the public of Mozilla’s commitment to LGBTQ rights. On his personal blog, Eich promised to continue enforcing the company’s anti-discrimination policy and offering health benefits to gay employees on an equal basis. Meanwhile, Mozilla released a public blog post emphasizing the company’s culture of openness and its support of equal rights for gays.
Critics of Eich’s appointment expressed disappointment with Mozilla’s choice for CEO in light of the importance of gay rights. Twitter users and bloggers also reminded the company of its mission of openness and free expression, values they argue Eich’s stance on same-sex marriage contradicts.
The initial uproar, however, has been met with some backlash. William Saletan at Slate notes that employees of other large companies have donated thousands of dollars to Prop 8 and sarcastically asks readers, “Why do these bigots still have jobs? Let’s go get them.” Taken to its logical conclusion, t[CO1] he condemnation of Eich, directed at all who share his belief, starts resembling a purge of those who do not hold the same opinions as the mainstream. Robert George of First Things sees the resignation as the first sign of a future where mob-like groups can bully corporations into discriminating against employees who hold socially conservative or religious views.
The Mozilla appointment has also launched a broader debate about the appropriate role of a CEO. Andrew Sullivan denounces the opposition to Eich as an exhibition of intolerance and a suppression of free speech led by the gay movement. Others, however, portray the debate not as a First Amendment issue but as the appropriate process by which the public should vet a CEO. As Mary Hamilton of the Guardian argues, the job of a CEO is to serve as the symbol of a company. That public role makes him or her accountable for personal views that may divide the company’s community base. Mozilla’s base in particular, Silicon Valley, may view support of gay equality as a non-negotiable right, notes the New Yorker. Additionally, the non-profit organization Mozilla Foundation owns Mozilla, and it depends on the contributions of developers and volunteers to produce its projects. Mozilla itself acknowledged the tension between free speech and equality in its statement first announcing Eich’s resignation. Although the company has not yet publicly appointed a new executive, it plans to provide more information in the coming week.
Eich’s appointment was controversial even before discussion of his donation went viral. He became CEO after Mozilla’s yearlong search for someone to lead the company. Firefox, although still the second most popular desktop browser, has struggled to break into the mobile market. Some members of the Mozilla board wanted an external candidate to fill the position and, in the aftermath of Eich’s appointment, three out of six board members resigned.
Sheri Pan is a 1L at Harvard Law School interested in the intersection of technology and public interest law.