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Southern Poverty Law Center fires co-founder Morris Dees

The organization's president suggested Dees' conduct was a factor, saying, "We take it seriously and must take appropriate action."
Morris Dees
Morris Dees, co-founder of Southern Poverty Law Center, speaks during Investigation Discovery's Hate in America panel on Jan/ 7, 2016 in Pasadena, California.Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images file

The Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the nation's leading civil rights organizations, has fired co-founder Morris Dees but didn't say exactly why.

The SPLC's president, Richard Cohen, suggested in a statement Thursday that the 82-year-old's employment was terminated Wednesday over a matter of conduct.

"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 said. "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."

NBC News was unable to reach Dees on Thursday. He told the local newspaper, the Montgomery Advertiser in Alabama, that he did not know why he was let go but that he wished the organization "the absolute best."

The newspaper reported that Dees, who had previously served as the group's chief litigator, hadn't tried a case in at least a decade and did not take an active role in day-to-day operations.

Cohen said that the episode has inspired a review of the organization's workplace practices.

"Today we announced a number of immediate, concrete next steps we’re taking, including bringing in an outside organization to conduct a comprehensive assessment of our internal climate and workplace practices, to ensure that our talented staff is working in the environment that they deserve – one in which all voices are heard and all staff members are respected," he said.

Dees co-founded the group in 1971 alongside civil rights leader Julian Bond and lawyer Joe Levin. He served as the nonprofit's chief litigator for years.

The organization is known for tracking hate groups in the United States.

“The SPLC is deeply committed to having a workplace that reflects the values it espouses — truth, justice, equity and inclusion — and we believe the steps we have taken today reaffirm that commitment," Cohen stated.