Morris Dees, one of the co-founders of the Southern Poverty Law Center, was fired yesterday. His bio on the group’s webpage has already been scrubbed. A statement released by the SPLC insinuated some form of misconduct was involved, though it didn’t specify what kind. The statement also promised an outside group would be tapped to investigate the “internal climate” of the organization. From WSFA 12:
Effective yesterday, Morris Dees’ employment at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) was terminated. 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.
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.
The Associated Press asked Dees for comment about the situation: “Reached by telephone, Dees said the matter involved a personnel issue. He said the Southern Poverty Law Center is a wonderful organization, and he wishes it luck.” That’s still pretty vague.
What kind of personnel issue are we talking about that could lead to the immediate dismissal of a co-founder? Is this a #MeToo situation involving a woman in the office? Dees is 82-years-old but who knows. The line in the SPLC statement about a working environment in which “all staff members are respected” could be a reference to some kind of sexual harassment.” The Montgomery Advertiser suggests another possibility:
A 1994 Montgomery Advertiser series provided a deep look into the organization controlled by the multimillionaire Dees, illustrating his near-singular control over the organization and its mammoth budget.
It revealed a figure seen as heroic by some and single-minded by others who criticized Dees as more focused on raising money than actually fighting injustice.
The series also alleged discriminatory treatment of black employees within the advocacy group, despite its outward efforts to improve the treatment of minorities in the country. Staffers at the time “accused Morris Dees, the center’s driving force, of being a racist and black employees have ‘felt threatened and banded together.’” The organization denied the accusations raised in the series.
Could Morris Dees be a hater? That one seems a bit counter-intuitive but clearly, something pretty bad must have happened for the SPLC to dump the person who co-founded the organization and helped turn it into an organization with a $320 million endowment.
Here’s why I don’t think it’s going to remain a mystery for long. If the situation was bad enough to fire Dees, it was also bad enough to lead to lawsuits against an organization with very deep pockets. Maybe the firing is an attempt to get ahead of some lawsuit we’re going to hear about very soon. In the meantime, maybe the SPLC should add Dees’ house to the hate map.