Southern Poverty Law Center Fires Co-Founder Morris Dees

MONTGOMERY, AL — The co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, 82-year-old civil rights attorney Morris Dees, has been fired by the SPLC. The organization made the announcement Thursday.

A statement by SPLC President Richard Cohen cited conduct issues as the basis for the firing. “Effective yesterday, Morris Dees’ employment at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) was terminated,” Cohen said. “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.”

Cohen’s statement did not specify what Dees’ actions were, but 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.

“The SPLC is deeply committed to having a workplace that reflects the values it espouses – truth, justice, equity and inclusion, and we believe the steps we have taken today reaffirm that commitment.”

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An SPLC spokesperson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the organization was “in the process of hiring” the firm for the workplace climate assessment, and no other leadership changes had been announced.

Dees earned his law degree from the University of Alabama, Dees started his law practice in 1960 and won a series of civil rights cases before establishing the SPLC with lawyer Joseph J. Levin Jr. and civil rights activist Julian Bond in 1971.

Among the many of landmark cases handled by the SPLC include litigation challenging Alabama’s legislative districts that forced the state to redraw its districts in the early 1970s, leading to the election of more than a dozen black legislators in 1974; better conditions for cotton mill workers in Kentucky, women in the workplace and poor defendants on death row. The organization is well-known for bankrupting a Ku Klux Klan Organization, the United Klans of America, in a 1987 civil case.