Mozilla is trying to push me out because I have cancer, CPO says in bombshell lawsuit

Steve Teixeira, said to be CEO-in-waiting, now sues Firefox maker for discrimination, retaliation

Mozilla Corporation was sued this month in the US, along with three of its executives, for alleged disability discrimination and retaliation against Chief Product Officer Steve Teixeira.

Teixeira, according to a complaint filed in King County Superior Court in the State of Washington, had been tapped to become CEO when he was diagnosed with ocular melanoma on October 3, 2023.

Teixeira then took medical leave for cancer treatment from October 30, 2023, through February 1, 2024.

"Immediately, upon his return, Mozilla campaigned to demote or terminate Mr Teixeira citing groundless concerns and assumptions about his capabilities as an individual living with cancer," the complaint [PDF] says. "Interim Chief Executive Officer Laura Chambers and Chief People Officer Dani Chehak were clear with Mr Teixeira: He could not continue as Chief Product Officer – and could not continue as a Mozilla employee in any capacity beyond 2024 – because of his diagnosis."

Mozilla campaigned to demote or terminate Mr Teixeira citing groundless concerns and assumptions about his capabilities as an individual living with cancer

Chambers and Chehak are both named in the complaint, along with Mitchell Baker, the former CEO of Mozilla who stepped down in February and announced Chambers as her successor.

"Mr Teixeira was enthusiastic to resume his critical role after treatment, but Mozilla would not tolerate an executive with cancer," said Amy Kangas Alexander, an attorney with law firm Stokes Lawrence who is representing the plaintiff, in an email to The Register.

"When Mr Teixeira refused to be marginalized because of his disability, Mozilla retaliated and placed him on leave against his will. Mozilla has sidelined Mr Teixeira at the very moment he needs to be preparing his family for the possibility of a future without him."

When Mr Teixeira refused to be marginalized because of his disability, Mozilla retaliated

The complaint claims that Teixeira, appointed in August 2022, helped reverse the decade-long decline of Firefox, which generates about 90 percent of Mozilla's revenue and is the company's only profitable product. He's further credited with growing Mozilla's advertising business, and AI capabilities, and with reducing investment in the money-losing Pocket service.

These and other successes, it's alleged, led to conversation in September 2023 when Baker outlined a plan for Teixeira to become CEO. Then he took medical leave and before he could return, the complaint says, Chambers was appointed interim CEO and Baker was removed, becoming Executive Chair of the Board of Directors.

"The board decision to remove Ms Baker was so abrupt that they did not conduct a search for a successor, resulting in the naming of one of their own board members, Ms Chambers, as interim CEO," the complaint says.

Baker's characterization of her departure was that it was her decision.

On the day Teixeira returned to his job, it's claimed, he was instructed to lead a company-wide layoff of 50 people, 40 of whom were in his MozProd organization. He allegedly raised questions about the layoff plan, but found his direct reports had been forbidden by Chehak to prepare a document to brief him about the logic and selection criteria for the layoff.

Subsequent disagreements with Chehak, it's said, led Teixeira to challenge the basis of the layoffs.

"Mr Teixeira had ethical concerns regarding the layoffs because they were primarily motivated by a desire to increase profit margins at Mozilla, which was already operating at a profit," the complaint claims. "Mr Teixeira viewed this as antithetical to Mozilla’s values as espoused on their website: 'We're backed by a non-profit, which means we prioritize the interests of people first, not corporate profits.'"

Teixeira's disagreements with management continued and led to a negative performance review in March 2024 and a reduction in bonus pay.

Around that time, the complaint says, Chambers "suggested that Mr Teixeira move into a different role to free up time for cancer treatment." At the time, he was no longer receiving regular treatment.

The following month, however, Teixeira is said to have told Chambers that he had been diagnosed with stage-four liver cancer and would need to undertake additional treatment. Thereafter, Chambers proposed moving Teixeira to a new role, SVP of Technology Strategy, which would last until the end of 2024, it is claimed. The position entailed a 40 percent pay cut and we're told Teixeira declined the demotion.

Following Chambers' alleged communication to Teixeira's direct reports about the need to accommodate his health challenges – the disclosure of which it's claimed was done without consent – Teixeira supposedly wrote to Chehak on April 25.

His message said that "it has become apparent that Mozilla is simply uncomfortable continuing to employ me as CPO because I have cancer. It’s the only reason I’ve been given for efforts by the Board and Laura to push me into a diminished role with reduced pay in obvious hope that I will leave quietly."

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In response to that note, the complaint contends, Teixeira was given an ultimatum with three options: Accept the new role and begin work; accept the new role and take long term leave; or "to not accept the role and move to a severance conversation."

On May 23, 2024, Mozilla allegedly placed Teixeira on administrative leave and reassigned his direct reports to other executives. He is still listed on the Moz Corp website as the CPO.

The lawsuit argues that Teixeira had no intention to stop working, before or after his diagnosis. The reason he needs to keep working is to support his family, including a disabled adult daughter and a spouse who gave up other career opportunities to care for the daughter.

"Mr Teixeira’s cancer diagnosis makes his need to continue employment in an executive-level position more acute, to accumulate sufficient funds to support his wife and daughter should his lifespan be shortened some day in the future," the lawsuit says.

We deny the allegations and intend to vigorously defend against this lawsuit

The complaint against Mozilla and its executives alleges: Violations of the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) on the basis of disability, retaliation, and disclosure of health information; defamation; and violation of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA); the Washington State Family and Medical Leave Act (PFML); and of the Washington State Silenced No More Act, which prohibits non-disclosure/non-disparagement provisions.

Asked to respond, a Mozilla spokesperson said in a statement, "We are aware of the lawsuit filed against Mozilla.

"We deny the allegations and intend to vigorously defend against this lawsuit. Mozilla has a 25-plus-year track record of maintaining the highest standards of integrity and compliance with all applicable laws. We look forward to presenting our defense in court and are confident that the facts will demonstrate that we have acted appropriately.

"As this is an ongoing legal matter, we will not be providing further comments at this time." ®

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