Liberal Intolerance

As a liberal, I consider one of my values to be tolerance, especially tolerance in the workplace. That is to say I support a workplace environment that tolerates differences in gender, ethnicity, sexuality, religion and creed. I might be aware of my coworker’s religious beliefs that I consider to be intolerant, and I might vehemently disagree with him, but so long as both of us agree on a tolerant, inclusive and positive work environment, and leave our differences at the door, I see no reason for him to be denied or pressured out of employment. Unfortunately, this seems to be what happened to Brendan Eich, former CEO of Mozilla Corp., for previously donating to the campaign of Proposition 8, a ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage in California. As a liberal who values tolerance in the workplace, I find this very disheartening.

First, I would like to acknowledge that Mozilla, its board of directors, its shareholders and its customer base were perfectly within their legal rights to pressure Eich to resign. Mozilla is not a government entity to which the First Amendment applies. Mozilla is a corporation subject to the desires of its shareholders and its customers. If shareholders desire a new direction for the company, they can vote in new leadership. If consumers find the political views of a company to be abhorrent, they can boycott and protest said company.

But the implication of the Mozilla situation is that the political views of individual employees should be held to the scrutiny of employers and its customers, and that any political view of an employee with which employers or customers disagree is grounds for termination. In essence, Mozilla has vetted at least one its employees, Brendan Eich, for his political views, and then pressured him to resign because Mozilla and a large portion of its customers disagreed with those views. Our approval of this behavior would imply that we as citizens condone companies firing employees based on their political views. This is not a view I can endorse.

Not only was forcing the resignation of Brendan Eich inconsistent with modern liberal values, but it commits us to a very impractical position. By forcing Eich’s resignation, we are symbolizing we do not approve of a company hiring any individual whose political views differ from our own.

Even though Eich’s political views were in the minority, it is safe to assume the company contains a mix of employees and customers with a myriad of political views. Should we be putting pressure on Mozilla, and other companies, to terminate every employee who disagrees with a certain political view?

Perhaps the argument is we draw the line at the board of directors, but this seems a bit naïve. Collectively, I’m sure the employees whose opinions differ from the Mozilla majority view possess considerably more political influence than does Eich or his donation of $1,000 to the Proposition 8 campaign. If the problem is one of influence, it wouldn’t be effective to only stop at the board of directors.

Of course, there is the argument that Eich’s values did not reflect the values of the company, and thus he was not fit to lead the company. However, Eich’s personal political views were not in conflict with the professional views of the company. Eich acknowledged this, and Mozilla acknowledged this. According to testimony, Eich was never intolerant in the workplace, and his colleagues were largely unaware of his political donations before his appointment as CEO. He even made a public statement promising to foster an inclusive and compassionate company that would work with those same values in mind for all of its employees and customers, including its LGBT ones.

So, the argument that Eich’s values did not reflect the values of the company appears largely unfounded, his political donations outside of and unrelated to his professional career being irrelevant and notwithstanding. And if we assume, as Greg Stevens has, that no one believed Eich’s opinions on gay marriage would affect Eich’s job as CEO, and that no one believed Eich was going to use Mozilla as an anti-gay political machine, then why were people demanding his resignation?

A company publicly endorsing, and furthermore financing, a political or moral view is one thing—something potentially laudable or condemnable—but I do not believe companies should be pressured into censoring the political and moral views of each its individual employees.

A while back I supported the boycotting and protesting of Chick-fil-A. This is because, as an entity, Chick-fil-A was donating a portion of its profits directly to political candidates and organizations. It had donated up to $5-million to anti-LGBT organizations. Its customer funds were directly financing anti-gay causes.

Chick-fil-A was acting as a de facto political action committee, which makes it very different from the situation with Mozilla. There was a strong argument for boycotting Chick-fil-A that didn’t lead to a slippery slope, unlike arguments to boycott Mozilla. Had Mozilla made the choice as a company to support and donate to political causes with which people disagree, I would be defending having put pressure on Mozilla. But that was not the case.

In principle, we step onto a slippery slope when we begin demanding which political and moral views are a prerequisite for employment. For example, as wealth inequality increases in the United States and around the globe, the minimum wage debate is again at the forefront of our politics. What if the Mozilla controversy had been about the minimum wage?

Let us say the newly appointed CEO had previously donated to a candidate who did not support raising the minimum wage, and the views of the CEO were in this case similarly in the minority. Should this be grounds for termination?

There are many people who have equally strong and even stronger moral convictions about the minimum wage than same-sex marriage, given how the minimum wage affects the livelihood of so many. This is just one example.

We can substitute any controversial political or moral issue for the issue of same-sex marriage in the Mozilla scenario—foreign policy, labor unions, healthcare, abortion, birth control, stem cell research, euthanasia, etc. Is a crusade that threatens to purge employees—individual citizens—in the marketplace with political differences consistent with modern liberal values? I am inclined to say it is not.

Mozilla could have demonstrated adherence to its own values and allowed for a leadership diverse in creed seeing as how Eich’s moral views would not affect his capacity as CEO, at least not until the crusaders showed up with pitchforks demanding a PR lynching. Instead, the message that Mozilla sent to consumers is that it will not tolerate a political view of which it disapproves.

I am confident that one day the battle for civil rights will be won, and also that I, as an LGBT citizen, will be lovingly embraced by each one of my fellow heterosexual citizens. Or at the very least, I won’t be discriminated against based on my sexuality. That day may still be far away, but my question in light of this situation is what happens when the controversy is no longer about civil rights, but something equally polarizing. I don’t believe a crusade threatening the employment of citizens is the right approach.


3 Replies to “Liberal Intolerance”

  1. Very well written. The question I would ask, though, would be how is this different from companies who fire employees based on other private activities that occur outside of the workplace? I’m not condoning this practice; but I also don’t think it truly amounts to intolerance so much as a company protecting it’s public perception and in turn, their marketability. The true problem seemed to be Mozilla’s ineffective handling of this situation from the very beginning. They should have been prepared to effectively defend their promotion of Eich; a defense that should have taken into account his anti-gay marriage donation, which should have been uncovered during a proper vetting process prior to his promotion to such a high profile role. The same process would be necessary if you promoted an employee to the CEO position who had previously been terminated for sexual harassment claims or who is a Holocaust denier. They dropped the ball and the sharks smelled the blood in water and swam into action. But I do not mean to absolve Eich. If you aspire to any high office, political or commercial, you have to be either cognizant of your actions as you pursue your assent to the point of avoiding potentially controversial actions or at least be prepared to mount an effective defense when such actions are uncovered.

    Again, not necessarily defending the practice of judging people holistically based on an action here or there. But this situation should have been handled with respect to how the world is; not, as we would want it to be.

    1. Hi, Marc.

      Thank you for your response.

      I believe this is different from companies who fire employees based on other private activities that occur outside of the workplace because Mozilla prides itself on diversity and inclusiveness, as per stated in a blog post by Mozilla Chairwoman Mitchell Baker following the controversy:

      “Our organizational culture reflects diversity and inclusiveness. We welcome contributions from everyone regardless of age, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender-identity, language, race, sexual orientation, geographical location and religious views. Mozilla supports equality for all.”

      And this does reflect the official mission statement of Mozilla as well.

      It isn’t as if Eich was behaving lewdly in public and bringing his ability as CEO into question. The controversy is surrounding his political views. Many people simply just disapproved of them. Eich never brought the integrity of the company or his ability as CEO into question by his actions.

      Now, Mozilla denies the Board of Directors or any of Mozilla’s employees pressured him to step down. However, Eich nevertheless felt pressure to step down after accepting his appointment as CEO. I am assuming he received pressure in some form or fashion, mostly from customers, but also likely from a closed-door mutual agreement among fellow executives. Nevertheless, Eich felt pressured to resign because of disapproval of his political views.

      My criticism is one directed at 1) customers, and 2) Mozilla.

      I occasionally use Mozilla products, so I can be considered a Mozilla customer, too, and I very strongly disagree with Eich’s political views, but as a liberal who values workplace diversity and inclusiveness, I can respect that he has political views that differ from my own so long as they do not interfere with his capacity as CEO. If Mozilla and outraged customers share my same values of diversity and inclusiveness, then they should have respected that he has political views different from their own as well; again, assuming his views would not interfere with his capacity as CEO.

      The only reason his views actually did interfere with his capacity as CEO is Mozilla customers weren’t living up to the values most of them claimed to share with Mozilla. What Mozilla should have done was step up to the plate to defend Eich. However, Mozilla made the economically smart decision by appeasing its customers. As an economic firm, this was smart, but it leaves Mozilla’s claims of valuing diversity and inclusiveness ringing hollow, as well as its customers’.

  2. You make some very good arguments here, and from a purely abstract and ideological standpoint, I agree that we should have a separation between how we respond to the actions of an individual as an individual, versus the actions of an individual as a representative of an organization.

    Certainly, there is a huge difference between this case, and the whole “Hobby Lobby” situation, where the personal views of the owners are being used as a justification for official company policy as to how the employees are treated. These are two totally different situations.

    I still have a hard time, however, fully condemning what happened to Eich. Surely, the behavior of certain individuals was distasteful. The rhetoric used by many liberals was uncivilized, malicious, and …. well, “unliberal”.

    But, how broad are the limits of this principle? What does this mean for what actions are or are not out-of-bounds when trying to promote social change? Would you apply the same arguments if, for example, Eich were discovered to be a neo-Nazi? (“I personally think that blacks and jews should be exterminated, but that will in no way impact the way I run Mozilla!”). Would you apply the same arguments if, for example, Eich were discovered to be actively funding groups in Africa that rape women and burn cities?

    I know, I know: I hate “slippery slope” arguments, as a general rule. But I think we need to think about where these boundaries are, and think hard about why the boundary gets places at point A and not point B. If we say it’s reasonable for him to be pushed out of Mozilla for donating money to terrorist groups in Africa, but NOT reasonable for donating money to Prop 8, then the important and interesting question is why?

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