The quick departure this week of Mozilla Corp.'s new CEO, Brendan Eich, over a $1,000 donation in support of California's Prop 8, raises the question of whether a new, harsher litmus test for corporate leaders is coming into view, some observers in the technology industry as well as the gay rights movement say.
Eich, a Mozilla co-founder and chief technology officer, left following the recirculation of news that, in 2008, he supported California's Proposition 8, a referendum that defined marriage as being only between one man and one woman. The measure passed, but was later overturned in the federal courts.
Protests against Eich's new executive post came from within Mozilla Corp. by some employees and culminated with an online effort by okcupid.com, a dating site, to get its customers to abandon the Mozilla Firefox Web browser, the third-most popular software used to access the Internet.
Eich's resignation, after just 10 days as CEO, came with word that the 15-year veteran of the organization was leaving to avoid becoming a burden to the firm. One advocate for same-sex marriage believes the net-inspired ousting was warranted.
"He was not the CEO of a chicken company," Fred Sainz, Human Rights Campaign communications and marketing vice president, said in a telephone interview. Eich "was the CEO of a tech company that has, you know, a reputation and by design is one that is highly inclusive, highly progressive. And this is a man that supported discrimination."
Saying Eich and the firm "would not stipulate what policies would be put in place to protect and benefit its own LGBT employees," Sainz asserted the blowback from a segment of the technology sector was "a reflection of the market policing itself and rejecting a CEO based upon a number of different factors."
The HRC spokesman added, "While his resignation will make people feel uncomfortable, I definitely feel it a measure of our success that a person who chose to discriminate against a whole segment of people is no longer the head of a technology company."
A new era
Other supporters of same-sex marriage weren't as eager to endorse what some view as a scorched earth policy of dealing with political opponents.
"Our entire nation and our entire world would be better off if we could come to a place where we're all human beings. We all have to figure out a way to work and be with one another," said the Rev. Cindi Love, an activist and author of "Would Jesus Discriminate: The 21st Century Question."
"I want to live in an America where we're making good choices. Right now, we're in a gigantic spitting contest," she said.
Another observer sees more than just spitting in play. Hans van Spakovsky, a former Federal Election Commissioner and now manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative and senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said he believes the Eich protest portends a new era of public scrutiny.
"I find it really reprehensible someone would be forced out of a company because of their personal views, political or religious, that they hold," he said. "None of those views had been imposed on the employees. That kind of intolerance, particularly from a community that has been complaining about intolerance for so long, is a bad thing."
Van Spakovsky said, "The people who were pushing for Brendan Eich to be fired, they clearly want to put in a standard of conformity so that anyone who disagrees is driven out of their jobs and society and labeled a bigot and is not able to speak. I don't think that's the way to persuade the public to change its stance on a position such as same-sex marriage."
Profession and politics
And while Eich's ouster is the latest for a supporter of Prop 8, it's not the first. Olympic gold medalist and gymnast Peter Vidmar was forced to relinquish his position as chef de mission for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team following disclosure of his support for the measure. In Sacramento, Calif., Scott Eckern of the California Musical Theatre was forced out of his job when his donation to the "Yes on 8" campaign became public.
Within the tech industry, many are suggesting that the way in which Eich's situation was handled puts corporate leaders on notice that their political views and careers are increasingly intertwined.
Dan Chmielewski, principal at Madison Alexander PR, Inc. in Irvine, Calif., said that while it was "perfectly appropriate for business leaders to engage in a political arena," Eich wasn't "alone in terms of paying a bit of a political price for having a political point of view."
That said, Chmielewski said, "Eich is a smart guy. Just because he stepped down from Mozilla, do not write his professional obituary."
Another industry insider familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was "amazing the way things worked out. ... People can destroy you in a tweet."
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