The Southern Poverty Law Center has fired its co-founder and chief trial lawyer, Morris Dees.
The nonprofit legal group, which made a name for itself taking on the Ku Klux Klan and has built up a nearly half a billion dollar endowment, was not especially forthcoming on the details of the decision. But SPLC President Richard Cohen did say in a statement that the organization was “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 82-year-old Dees co-founded the SPLC in 1971. He told the Montgomery Adviser he didn’t know why he was terminated, but added he wished the organization “the absolute best.” He hadn’t been involved in trying cases in at least a decade, and wasn’t recently involved in the group’s day-to-day operations, the paper reported.
A series of articles published by the Montgomery Adviser in 1994 detailed allegations by black employees of discrimination, with claims Dees was a racist, and was more interested in raising funds than fighting discrimination. The center denied the veracity of the reports at the time.
“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,” said the SPLC in a statement on Thursday.
In addition to questions about the workplace environment and the size of its endowment, the SPLC has come under fire for publishing a hate watch list that critics say casts too wide a net with its labeling of hate groups.
In June, counter-extremism think tank Quilliam received a $3.37 million settlement and an apology after the SPLC admitted it had incorrectly included it, and founder Maajid Nawaz, in a publication about anti-Muslim extremists.