Civil rights group rocked by discrimination accusations

(CNN) – The Southern Poverty Law Center defends against civil rights injustices, but the organization is now facing accusations that go against its mission.

Some employees claim racist and sexist practices at the SPLC.

Since its inception, the group has fought for equal rights against infamous hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

But two current employees told CNN the SPLC fell short in guaranteeing equality for its own staff.

The employees would not go on camera out of fear of retaliation, but one told CNN the SPLC suffers from a “systemic culture of racism and sexism within its workplace.”

A second employee agreed.

It’s an environment, one of the sources said, where “black employees are not being promoted despite being qualified” and “a workplace where a woman is made to feel she is not seen or heard.”

One employee said, “My boss only hires white people.”

Some employees said the group must practice what it preaches.

One employee said the rank and file are deeply divided. The employee describes the current upheaval at the SPLC as a “revolution” against the organization’s longtime leadership, “initiated by employees … tired of seeing the pervasive culture exist” and go unchallenged by those in charge.

The SPLC declined CNN’s request for an interview.

They did not respond to the specific claims made by some of their employees to CNN, but they did send a response from Bryan Fair, its board of directors chair: “We acknowledge and take very seriously the significant concerns that our talented and deeply committed staff have raised.”

The claims come after the firing of SPLC co-founder Morris Dees on March 13.

The SPLC said the 82-year-old was terminated after two separate investigations into alleged misconduct. They would not be more specific, citing the privacy of personnel matters.

Dees did not respond to multiple attempts to reach him about his termination.

An SPLC spokeswoman said in a statement regarding Dees’ firing: “No one, no matter that person’s position at the SPLC, will be exempt from scrutiny and accountability.”

After Dees’ firing came the resignation of Richard Cohen, the longtime president of the organization.

Cohen did not return calls from CNN.

In a staff email, Cohen stepped down after 16 years at the helm.

“We’ve heard from our staff that we need to do a better job of making sure that our workplace embodies the values we espouse – truth, justice, equity and inclusion,” he wrote.

While some of CNN’s sources have been critical of the culture at the SPLC, they acknowledge that the organization has done important work in shedding light on extremism.

One woman said a lot of the claims were “greatly exaggerated.”

“I’m completely happy here. We have many women in leadership,” she said.

But in recent days, the SPLC’s female associate legal director Meredith Horton also resigned. CNN reached her but she would not comment.

A legal expert was hired to help look into the SPLC’s practices, and will conduct a review that looks at the entirety of how the organization operates.

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