Monday, April 7, 2014

Brendan Eich's Resignation Is Why We Need ENDA

Brendan Eich, Ex-Mozilla CEO
Brendan Eich
Last week's resignation of Brendan Eich as CEO of Mozilla marked the end of an important and earnest conversation about the role of politics in the workplace. As someone who takes great pride in both my work and my political voice, I followed the controversy with interest.

Brendan Eich co-founded the Mozilla Project, and previously served as the organization's CTO. By all accounts he's a brilliant engineer, and never made his political or social beliefs an issue at work. In 2008, Eich made a $1,000 donation to help pass Proposition 8 in California, a piece of legislation that denied more than 10% of Americans (and probably a far higher percentage of LGBT Americans) the freedom to marry the person they loved.

Eich's donation has been known since 2012, when it caused a minor stir. Two years later, in an environment in which the Supreme Court has ruled laws like Prop 8 not just unconstitutional, but a healthy majority of Americans also find them immoral, it cost him his job.

With the exception of legally protected classes such as race, gender, national origin, and age, most people in most places can be fired for almost anything. In an at-will or right-to-work state you can be terminated for having red hair, driving the wrong kind of car, or supporting the wrong team in the Super Bowl. In most places, your boss can fire you just because he doesn't like you. And you can definitely be fired for being gay. Or for supporting Proposition 8.

Brendan Eich holds increasingly unpopular beliefs about marriage equality, and he was clearly harassed and drummed out of his job because of it (although Mozilla says Eich was not asked to resign).

This is wrong.

Chief executive officers are, and should be, held to a higher standard. They are the face of their employers, and can cause real, irreparable harm to the brands they run if they misstep. And they set a tone for the workplace that should always be beyond reproach. While in hindsight Eich's contribution to the Prop 8 campaign was probably unwise, he is by all accounts a great, fair, and passionate leader.

He also doesn't  shouldn't have to check his freedom of speech at the Mozilla front door. As long as it's not a workplace matter, it's as fine for someone to oppose same-sex marriage as to support it.

It's impossible to demand ideological unanimity of America's CEOs. But we can demand that they treat all of their employees with fairness and respect, and that goes for the gay ones, the straight ones, and the transgendered ones. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), currently before Congress, would do just that. It protects us all against arbitrary termination for our sexual orientation or gender identity. Congress should pass it, and make the personal beliefs of business leaders irrelevant.

1 comment:

  1. I'm in agreement with you on this. Eich's ouster is a black eye on our movement for equality. Getting someone fired (or forcing their resignation) for their unrelated, out-of-the-workplace views is exactly the kind of thing we are working against. You can argue that our issues are different, but you'll never convince everyone of that. This episode shouldn't, but sadly may, lend credence to the right wing legislators arguing for Religious Freedom laws throughout the US.

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