Morris Dees, founder, Southern Poverty Law Center, speaks onstage during Investigation Discovery's Hate in America panel as part of the Discovery Communications portion of This is Cable Television Critics Association Winter Tour at Langham Hotel on January 7, 2016 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
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Dees denies any wrongdoing
Internal emails obtained by the Alabama Political Reporter contain multiple allegations that fired Southern Poverty Law Center co-founder Morris Dees sexually harassed employees, providing more insight into the potential reasons for his termination.
SPLC employees claim that not only did Dees sexually harass employees on multiple occasions, but SPLC leadership also either ignored or covered up reports of his misconduct. Dees denies all the allegations.
"I don't know who you're talking to or talking about, but that is not right," Dees said.
Systemic issues at the SPLC?
The internal emails from employees address more than just Dees' alleged misconduct, they also point to an organizational culture of harassment and discrimination that they are demanding SPLC leaders address:
But internal emails obtained by APR related to Dees' firing appear to show that the problems — which employees said spanned from sexual harassment to gender- and race-based discrimination — were more systemic and widespread, creating an atmosphere over several years in which female and minority employees felt mistreated. The employees also said that they felt their complaints were either not heard or resulted in retaliation from senior staff.
In statements following Dees' firing, SPLC president Richard Cohen acknowledged some of these issues and announced that an outside organization would come in to evaluate and handle some of the problems brought up by employees.
Why does Dees think he was fired?
Since Dees denied the misconduct allegations, the question remains: What could he have done to get fired from an organization he founded after nearly 50 years of service?
Dees told the Alabama Political Reporter that he thought the SPLC just wanted to move in a different direction, and suggested that his age or lack of presence at SPLC headquarters recently might be contributing factors. He would not say anything negative about the organization, and said his legacy is still intact.
"What we've done at SPLC is in history books, in movies and TV shows—it can't be erased by any one person," Dees told APR. "We've done too much good for that."
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