Mozilla Corp. CEO resigns over controversy

Brendan Eich resigned on April 3 after a one-and-a-half week term as CEO of the Mozilla Corporation, a company best known for its Firefox web browser. Eich stepped down after publicization of his contributions to an anti-marriage equality campaign led to public backlash. In 2008, Eich donated $1,000 to support Proposition 8, a California ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage.

Mozilla employees voiced disappointment and concern following Mozilla’s March 24 announcement of Eich’s appointment. Some went as far to call for Eich’s resignation. Chris McAvoy, a Mozilla product lead, tweeted, “I’m an employee of @mozilla and I’m asking @brendaneich to step down as CEO.” Sydney Moyer, another Mozilla employee tweeted, “I’m an employee of @mozilla and cannot reconcile having @BrendanEich as CEO with our org’s culture & mission. Brendan, please step down.”

Calls for resignation, however, were not unanimous. Zibi Braniecki tweeted “I’m an employee of @mozilla and a supporter of LGBT rights and I ask @BrendanEich to keep being a great leader and step up as CEO.” Jason Duell tweeted, “I’m a Queer Mozillian and I don’t feel threatened by @BrendanEich becoming CEO. He’ll do a great job and Mozilla remains LGBTQ friendly.” Christie Koehler, a Mozilla employee and self-described “queer woman” wrote, “I’ve learned that it can be even harder to work with someone when you think you don’t share your fundamental beliefs, or when you think they hold opposing or contradictory beliefs, but you have to do that sometimes, too.”

Eich responded to employees with a statement on his blog titled “Inclusiveness at Mozilla” on March 26. “I know there are concerns about my commitment to fostering equality … for LGBT individuals at Mozilla,” wrote Eich. “I intend to demonstrate with meaningful action my commitment to a Mozilla that lives up to its ideals, including that of being an open and inclusive community.”

A statement on Mozilla’s official blog, titled “Mozilla Statement on Diversity”, reads, “Mozilla has always been deeply committed to honoring diversity in sexual orientation and beliefs within our staff and community, across all the project’s activities.” Mozilla extends benefits to domestic partners, even to employees in states where such benefits are only legally required to be extended to a spouse in a state-recognized marriage.

Despite these statements, backlash spread beyond Mozilla. Dating site OkCupid posted a notice on their website to Firefox users: “Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid.”

In an interview with CNET published April 1, Eich acknowledged the backlash. “Mozilla is under a threat here. We don’t know how big,” stated Eich. “If Mozilla cannot continue to operate according to its principles of inclusiveness, where you can work on the mission no matter what your background or other beliefs, I think we’ll probably fail.”

Eich co-founded Mozilla in 1998 while working at Netscape, where he had, three years earlier, created the JavaScript programming language for use in the Netscape Navigator web browser. All modern web browsers now interpret JavaScript, which provides user interactivity on websites.

Eich served as Chief Technical Officer of the Mozilla Corporation, the for-profit wing of the Mozilla Foundation from 2005 until his promotion to CEO.

Eich announced his immediate resignation on April 3, saying, “Our mission is bigger than any one of us, and under the present circumstances, I cannot be an effective leader.” In a blog post titled “The Next Mission”, Eich wrote, “I encourage all Mozillians to keep going … Thanks indeed to all who have supported me”

While Eich’s resignation satisfied some of Mozilla’s critics, some have criticized the political climate that prompted his decision. The National Organization for Marriage, a prominent anti-gay marriage organization, called for gay marriage opponents to take a stand, suggesting that they should uninstall the Firefox web browser from their computers. The opposition came from both sides. Prominent gay rights activist Andrew Sullivan wrote, “There is only one permissible opinion at Mozilla, and all dissidents must be purged! Yep, that’s left-liberal tolerance in a nut-shell.”