March 23 (UPI) — Longtime president of the Southern Poverty Law Center Richard Cohen announced his resignation Friday in a continued fallout at the civil rights organization that led to the departure of its co-founder Morris Dees last week.
Cohen’s announcement also comes on the heels of Rhonda Brownsten, the center’s legal director, stepping down, Alabama’s Montgomery Advertiser reported.
The center has begun an audit of the organization’s practices after some had criticized it for sexual harassment, gender discrimination and racism. Tina Tchen, a former White House official, is leading the audit.
“Given my long tenure as the SPLC president, however, I do not think I should be involved in that process beyond cooperating with Tina, her team, and the board in any way that may be helpful,” said Cohen, who has been president since 2003 and connected with the organization since 1986.
“Whatever problems exist at the SPLC happened on my watch, so I take responsibility for them,” Cohen added.
While the center did not disclose the reasons for Dees’ departure, a letter signed by two dozen employees before his termination accused the SPLC’s co-founder of “mistreatment, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and racism” and said his actions threaten the center’s moral authority and integrity.
The center came under fire for Dees’ aggressive fundraising tactics and by conservatives for labeling some right-of-center organizations as hate groups, a label the groups disputed.
Since forming in 1971, the three-man legal center has grown into an organization with hundreds of employees with a budget of $450 million, easily dwarfing other well known civil rights groups like the NAACP.
Cohen said he originally told staff in October to start a search for new president, but “in light of recent events, I’ve asked the board to immediately launch a search for an interim president in order to give the organization the best chance to heal.”