Mozilla CEO Resigns Amid Furor, Opening Free Speech Debate

Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich is stepping down as CEO and leaving the company following protests over his support of a gay marriage ban in California.

The nonprofit that makes the Firefox browser infuriated many employees and users last week by naming Eich head of the Mountain View, Calif.-based organization.

At issue was Eich's $1,000 donation in 2008 to the campaign to pass California's Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that outlawed same-sex marriages. The ban was overturned last year when the U.S. Supreme Court left in place a lower-court ruling striking down the ballot measure.

Eich's contribution had drawn negative attention in the past but took on more weight when he was named CEO. Mozilla employees and users criticized the move on Twitter and elsewhere online. Earlier this week, dating website OKCupid replaced its usual homepage for users logging in with Firefox with a note suggesting they not use Mozilla's software to access the site.

The departure raises questions about how far corporate leaders are allowed to go in expressing their political views.

"CEOs often use their station to push for certain viewpoints and get some muscle for those viewpoints," said UCLA management professor Samuel Culbert. "But if you are going to play the game you have to think of both sides."

Company leaders have to be conscious of what impact their own views may have on the success of their organization, Culbert argues. While some leaders, such as Starbucks Corp. head Howard Schultz, have been outspoken in their political positions, it is often in a vein that is line with the ethos of his company. Culbert said that taking a position that is divisive can both drive away customers and hurt employee morale.

The onus is also on the corporation and its board to assess whether anything that a candidate has done or said in the...

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