Southern Poverty Law Center Fires Co-Founder Over ‘Misconduct’

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by David Nussman  •  •  March 15, 2019   

Morris Dees ousted; reports suggest harassment, discrimination complaints

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. ( - The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) announced Thursday that it has fired one of its founders.

The man who has been fired is Morris Dees, who helped found the SPLC in 1971. SPLC's president, Richard Cohen, announced the firing in a statement Thursday, saying:

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.

It was unclear what specifically led to Dees' firing, but Cohen appeared to suggest that the move was part of an overhaul on reforming the workplace environment. He said in the statement, "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."

Dees told the Montgomery Advertiser about the statement that announced his firing, "I feel like some of the things in the statement were unfortunate. But I refuse to say anything negative about the center or its employees. I'll let my life's work and reputation speak for itself."

He also mentioned to the Advertiser that he had not been active in the SPLC's day-to-day work for years.

According to internal emails obtained by Alabama Political Reporter (APR), female employees alleged multiple instances of sexual harassment. Their complaints of harassment allegedly got ignored by SPLC leadership, and some claimed they faced retaliation for reporting.

Dees flatly denies what APR reported. He told APR on Thursday, "I don't know who you're talking to or talking about, but that is not right."

He referred to the allegations of harassment as "totally untrue."

APR notes that the internal emails describe a workplace atmosphere at SPLC in which women and racial minorities felt there was bias against them.

Dees said he had no ill will for the SPLC, telling APR, "I love the center and spent my life building it."

He added, "I will never say a bad word about it or any of the wonderful people who work there."

In July 2018, a report surfaced claiming that Dees was once accused of making sexual advances on his 18-year-old stepdaughter. Reportedly, the 1979 divorce paperwork from his ex-wife Maureene Dees accuses him of trying to molest his stepdaughter with a sex toy.

Dees co-founded the SPLC in 1971 with his law partner, Joseph Levin, with the intention of protecting the civil rights of minorities.

In its early years, the SPLC battled in the courtroom against violent racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

Over time, the center broadened its focus to encompass extremists and hate groups in general. But in recent years, the SPLC has been criticized for broadening its definition of "hate group" to include conservative and Christian organizations that are actually quite mainstream, often condemning them as "anti-LGBT."

Church Militant was recently added to the SPLC's list of hate groups.

Also on the list of hate groups is the Ruth Institute, a Catholic organization committed to counteracting the destruction of family life caused by the sexual revolution.

Despite the accusations of anti-conservative bias, many major organizations rely on the SPLC for vetting — such as YouTube and PayPal.

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