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Southern Poverty Law Center fires co-founder Morris Dees amid employee uproar

The Southern Poverty Law Center has fired its famed co-founder, Morris Dees, over unspecified misconduct, the nonprofit announced Thursday, a stunning development at an organization that became a bedrock of anti-extremism research and activism under nearly half a century of Dees’ leadership.

While the organization’s leadership did not disclose the reason for Dees’ departure, staff at its headquarters in Montgomery, Ala., were told in an internal email that “although he made unparalleled contributions to our work, no one’s contributions can excuse that person’s inappropriate conduct.”

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.

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