The Southern Poverty Law Center has fired its co-founder, Morris Dees, amidst reports that the civil rights nonprofit has been facing gender and race complaints within the workplace.
According to the Los Angeles Times, SPLC announced Thursday that Dees was dismissed over unnamed misconduct, after having led the organization for almost half a century. SPLC leadership did not disclose a specific reason for his dismissal, but told staff in an internal email that “although he made unparalleled contributions to our work, no one’s contributions can excuse that person’s inappropriate conduct.”
The Times reported that the watchdog organization has been struggling with complaints from staff of workplace mistreatment of women and people of color. However, it was not clear if the complaints were connected to Dees’s firing.
Also on Thursday, before news broke that of Dees’s dismissal, about two dozen employees signed and sent a letter to management saying they were concerned that internal “allegations of mistreatment, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and racism threaten the moral authority of this organization and our integrity along with it.”
The letter came after a respected black attorney at the organization had resigned criticizing the organization’s work culture in an email announcing her departure.
“As a woman of color, the experiences of staff of color and female staff have been particularly important to me … and we recognize that there is more work to do in the legal department and across the organization to ensure that SPLC is a place where everyone is heard and respected and where the values we are committed to pursuing externally are also being practiced internally,” she wrote, according to the Times.
Dees, who co-founded the SPLC in 1971, made a national name for the organization by suing the Ku Klux Klan.
“It was not my decision, what they did,” Dees told the Montgomery Advertiser in an interview on Thursday about his dismissal. “I wish the center the absolute best. Whatever reasons they had of theirs, I don’t know.”
In a series of tweets, Josh Moon, a reporter for Alabama Political Reporter, said that he had spoken to Dees, who denied any inappropriate behavior, and said that his dismissal was due to a “difference of opinion.” Moon said that Dees also told him that he hadn’t been in charge of the organization for several years, and that “I probably only go down there about two [days] a week. There was nothing like that (sexual harassment).”
This post has been updated throughout.