Is this the thought police?
After two weeks of heavy public pressure, including boycotts of Mozilla Firefox by OK Cupid and many LGBTQ activists, former CEO Brendan Eich has handed in his resignation. He resigned after public pressure and campaigns, for a point of view he held in private, which had not been proven to have affected his work. He had donated thousands of dollars to support Proposition 8, the legal ruling made in 2008 in California which rescinded same-sex marriage rights, and to support political candidates who supported the Proposition.
I am firmly against Mr Eich’s point of view. I am a feminist, an equalist, through to the bone and do not in any way agree with his expressed viewpoint. I personally would not want to work with or for anyone who held anti-equality views. However, I am disturbed by the fact Mr Eich was put into a position where he was forced to resign because of a personally-held point of view.
I was fired from a job once, because of my political views. It was my first job after leaving university and having completed a secretarial course, and ended almost a year of unemployment. My contract was not renewed after the probationary period. I worked for two bosses (a theme which seems to have carried on throughout my career) and the female underboss took me out to lunch on the day I was told. It was she who told me the overboss had made his decision because I was left-wing and outspoken as a woman. This I now find ironic as I was not particularly outspoken then. I couldn’t actually work out how the overboss had discerned my political leanings as I didn’t define myself as being of any particular leaning. He was right-wing, the owner of the actual business was a Conservative MP, but the job did not entail any political or opinion-giving tasks. But my job was gone, and there was nothing I could do about it. I was fired because I did not politically align with my boss.
What is the difference between this and Mr Eich being forced to resign for a privately-held political viewpoint? If he had shown bias and discrimination in the workplace, in his job, in any way through Mozilla Firefox as a brand and product, then yes I could understand the position. He hadn’t done this though. It may have been possible that his view would change, and his statement certainly showed an interest in doing so. Only time would have told, but this now is time we will not have to see whether he would have changed his opinions or whether he would have shown discriminatory behaviour.
I am concerned about this action. I was concerned with the proposed boycott and suggestion we switch from Firefox to Google Chrome, not least because Google pays an awful lot of money to Firefox to be the default server, so it seemed to me to be counterproductive. Such a boycott would damage the many employees of the company.
Mostly, though, I am concerned at the idea that a person can be removed from their job because they hold a particular personal viewpoint. There is no evidence at all, that I can find, that Mr Eich’s views had ever affected his job. Mozilla has an excellent anti-discrimination policy, but Mr Eich had not actually shown any discrimination against anyone at the point of holding the job. There are only those donations in 2008. In fact, he had been working for Mozilla as Chief Technical Officer since 2005 and I cannot find any report of him having been discriminatory towards anyone at the company. If he had been, would it not have been publicised? I am bearing in mind that lack of evidence is not proof of lack of discrimination, but one can only act on what one knows.
I have been reading a lot about this issue, because it is one which concerns me. A rather excellent article supporting Mr Eich’s resignation was posted on Slate yesterday which agrees with the forced resignation of Mr Eich. It seems those actually working for Mozilla were not happy with the choice of Mr Eich as CEO, and internal action was taken to remove him from the position with three Board members resigning over the majority vote appointment. He was a controversial choice from the start.
Ultimately though, if we allow a personal political view to force a person out of their job, rather than follow the legal channels and prove the person has behaved in a discriminatory manner, or allow a person to change, then aren’t we discriminating against them ourselves? I find Mr Eich’s view reprehensible, but that must be separate to my application of the principle of equality to all people. There is no evidence at all that Mr Eich had discriminated against anyone in the workplace. Shouldn’t we have given him a chance to fail, rather than just force him out? If he had discriminated in any way, then I would be all for a boycott, for forcing him out. But isn’t this a bit pre-emptive? I feel Mr Eich has been found guilty of the fact he may potentially have violated the laudable anti-discrimination policy of Firefox at some time in the future, rather than actually having done so.
Should it be proven Mr Eich discriminated against anyone, work colleague or employee, or had violated the Firefox anti-discrimination policy, then my view would change. Until then, I am very wary of any action which encourages punitive action against a personally-held political view. Mozilla prides itself on bringing together a diverse range of people. Where does the line get drawn? When does diversity stop?