Morris Dees. Photo from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, has fired one of its co-founders, 82-year-old Morris Dees, a legendary civil rights activist.
Richard Cohen, president of the SPLC, announced Dees’ ouster in a statement, report the Montgomery Advertiser, AL.com, the Washington Post and the Associated Press. Cohen didn’t give a specific reason for the firing, but his statement referred to steps the group is taking to evaluate the SPLC’s “internal climate and workplace practices.”
“As a civil rights organization, the SPLC is committed to ensuring that the conduct of our staff reflects the mission of the organization and the values we hope to instill in the world. When one of our own fails to meet those standards, no matter his or her role in the organization, we take it seriously and must take appropriate action,” the statement said.
“Today we announced a number of immediate, concrete next steps we’re taking, including bringing in an outside organization to conduct a comprehensive assessment of our internal climate and workplace practices, to ensure that our talented staff is working in the environment that they deserve—one in which all voices are heard and all staff members are respected.”
Dees told the Associated Press that the matter involved a personnel issue, and he wishes the SPLC continued luck.
Dees had been welcomed with a standing ovation when he received the ABA Medal, the association’s highest honor, from the ABA House of Delegates in August 2012.
His group filed a series of successful civil lawsuits against chapters of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups. In one case, the group won a $7 million judgment against the United Klans of America on behalf of a woman whose son was murdered by Klan members.
But black employees of the SPLC had alleged discriminatory treatment by Dees in a 1994 series by the Montgomery Advertiser. According to the newspaper, the series “revealed a figure seen as heroic by some and single-minded by others” who criticized Dees as more focused on raising money than fighting injustice. Tax records showed the group had nearly $450 million in net assets at the end of 2017.
The SPLC had denied discrimination.