The Southern Poverty Law Center has fired its co-founder Morris Dees, the nonprofit announced Thursday.
Dees’ termination was effective on Wednesday. The Alabama-based nonprofit activist group is known for tracking civil rights and hate crimes in the United States.
SPLC President Richard Cohen did not cite a specific reason for Dees’ dismissal but noted in a statement released Thursday that the organization “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,” he added.
Dees, 82, was also the former chief litigator. He co-founded the SPLC in 1971.
His biography has been removed from the SPLC’s website.
When asked about his termination, Dees told CNN that it wasn’t his decision to leave SPLC.
“It’s a very fine group. I’ve devoted 50 years of my life to the center. I wish them the very best,” Dees said.
He would not elaborate on how he learned about his dismissal or the reasoning behind it. He only said that he “can let (his) life’s work and reputation speak for itself.”
In the past few years, Dees said, he mostly went to the center to make calls to big donors. He is now looking forward to spending time with his great-grandchildren.
As SPLC’s chief trial counsel, Dees began using courts in the early 1980s to secure monetary damages against hate groups. Courts then seized the groups’ assets.
In 1981, Dees successfully sued the Ku Klux Klan and won a $7 million judgment for the mother of Michael Donald, a black lynching victim in Alabama. The judgment bankrupted the United Klans of America, which had to sell its national headquarters to help pay it off.