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.