U.S. News

Southern Poverty Law Center fires its co-founder, chief litigator

(Reuters) - The Southern Poverty Law Center, the civil rights organization best known for tracking U.S. hate groups, said on Thursday it fired its chief litigator Morris Dees, who co-founded the nonprofit nearly 50 years ago to fight racial injustice.

Dees, 82, was terminated on Wednesday after he failed to meet the organization’s standards, said Richard Cohen, the president of the Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), in a statement.

“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,” he said.

The organization did not specify why it terminated Dees, whose biography was removed from its website.

Spokesman Owen Kilmer told Reuters the organization will not disclose the nature of Dees’ infractions, adding that it does not “comment on individual personnel decisions.”

Reuters was unable to reach Dees for comment.

The chairman of the SPLC’s board of directors, Bryan Fair, was not immediately available for comment.

Dees and another lawyer in Montgomery founded SPLC in 1971 after he witnessed firsthand the devastating consequences of bigotry and racial injustice in the deep south in the late 1960s, according to the organization’s website.

The law center is now a prominent civil rights advocacy organization, which publishes reports on inequality, litigates cases and tracks hate groups across United States.

Cohen said the law center was bringing in an outside organization to access its internal climate and workplace practices.

“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,” Cohen said.

Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Marguerita Choy