Yesterday we learned that Southern Poverty Law Center co-founder Morris Dees was fired this week over an unspecified “personnel issue.” There was some speculation (by myself and others) that issue could be of the #MeToo variety or, alternatively, that it could be related to his treatment of minorities as some previous investigations of the SPLC had indicated. Josh Moon of Alabama Political Reporter has a story up today which says the reason for Dees’ firing, according to internal SPLC emails, was at least partly based on allegations of sexual harassment:
The spark that ignited the near-mutiny at SPLC appears to have been the resignation of senior attorney Meredith Horton, and an email she sent to senior leadership. That email noted the hardships women and employees of color faced at SPLC. It was forwarded by Cohen to all staff with a message that there would be a commitment within SPLC to address those concerns.
An email signed by numerous SPLC employees followed shortly thereafter and made numerous demands. It also laid bare many of the problems that employees have faced over the years.
Specifically, the employees’ email alleged multiple instances of sexual harassment by Dees, and it alleges that reports of his conduct were ignored or covered up by SPLC leadership. A subsequent letter from other SPLC employees demands an investigation into the alleged coverup of Dees’ alleged harassment.
The emails noted that multiple female SPLC employees had resigned over the years due to the harassment and/or the subsequent retaliation by SPLC leadership when they reported the incidents.
The general outlines of the conflict within the SPLC were also reported by the LA Times, though without making a direct connection to Dees’ behavior:
The Times has also learned that the organization, whose leadership is predominantly white, has been wrestling with complaints of workplace mistreatment of women and people of color. It was not immediately clear whether those issues were connected to the firing of Dees, who is 82.
Also Thursday, employees sent correspondence to management demanding reforms, expressing concerns about the resignation last week of a highly respected black attorney at the organization and criticizing the organization’s work culture.
A letter signed by about two dozen employees — and sent to management and the board of directors before news broke of Dees’ firing — said 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.”
Dees flatly denies the allegations and has said he is only in the office about two days a week. Also, the Josh Moon story notes that the internal email circulated by employees did not focus solely on Dees but suggested the problem in the office was more widespread. Employees are demanding an investigation or some sort of training to deal with the problem. As noted yesterday, the statement from the SPLC about Dees’ firing specifically promised an outside group would “conduct a comprehensive assessment of our internal climate and workplace practices.”
I’d like to see the internal email to really get a sense of how much it focused on Dees versus other problems. But clearly, someone felt Dees was part of the problem or they wouldn’t have fired him.