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SPLC fires co-founder Morris Dees for misconduct as it also addresses internal diversity issues


Group isn't saying what he did

Co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Morris Dees of 'Hate in America' speaks during the Discovery Communications TCA Winter 2016 on Jan. 7, 2016, in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images for Discovery Communications)

The Southern Poverty Law Center fired co-founder Morris Dees on Thursday for misconduct, but the organization would not reveal what exactly Dees did wrong, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Dees, who co-founded the SPLC in 1971, confirmed to the Times that his departure was involuntary, and claimed he didn't know the reason.

"It was not my decision, what they did," Dees said. "I wish the center the absolute best. Whatever reasons they had of theirs, I don't know."

What do we know?

The SPLC's comments about Dees' termination hint at misconduct by Dees and potential diversity issues within the organization, although it's not clear whether the two are related in any way.

"Although he made unparalleled contributions to our work, no one's contributions can excuse that person's inappropriate conduct," read an internal email sent to SPLC staff about Dees.

SPLC President Richard Cohen also spoke vaguely about Dees' alleged misconduct.

"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," Cohen wrote in a statement. "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 also said the SPLC would hire an outside firm to conduct a "comprehensive assessment of our internal climate and workplace practices" to make sure that "all voices are heard and all staff members are respected."

An unnamed black attorney left the SPLC last week and accused the organization of lacking in some areas of respecting and listening to minorities.

"As a woman of color, the experiences of staff of color and female staff have been particularly important to me ... and we recognize that there is more work to do in the legal department and across the organization to ensure that SPLC is a place where everyone is heard and respected and where the values we are committed to pursuing externally are also being practiced externally," she wrote.

Some SPLC background

The SPLC began as a champion of racial civil rights, striking some high-profile legal blows against the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s and 1980s.

In more recent years, the group has faced criticism for increasingly targeting Christian churches and organizations, as well as conservatives, and designating them as "hate groups" alongside organizations like the KKK and the Aryan Brotherhood.

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