Former ACLU Employee Files Lawsuit After Being Fired For Calling Out Racism In The Organization
Robert Jackson was allegedly demoted from associate director to analyst.
June 13, 2021 at 4:02 pm
Robert Jackson, a former associate director for the ACLU, has filed a lawsuit against the non-profit organization, saying that he was demoted and eventually fired for calling out internal racism. Filing the complaint Tuesday in New York District Court, Jackson said he and other Black colleagues were were told to keep quiet about criticisms concerning the organization's lack of leadership diversity.
“Despite the good the ACLU has done for the Black community outside of its walls, it appears that the scope of its stated mission starts and ends there,” the lawsuit states, according to Vice. “As was made clear to Mr. Jackson, complaints about systemic racism within the ACLU itself are not welcome, nor are the people who speak out.”
The former ACLU employee said he first noticed a problem in 2019 when Kary Moss, the ACLU’s director, took a picture with former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a company employee conference in Montgomery, Alabama. The meeting was dedicated to discussing issues impacting the Black community and the steps ACLU needs to take in order to help address the problems.
“Mr. Sessions has spent his career supporting policies that disadvantage and target Black Americans,” the lawsuit states. “Mr. Jackson could not understand why Ms. Moss—a leader within the ACLU— would condone Mr. Sessions’ record by smiling next to him in a photo at an event organized for the express purpose of addressing racial inequities Black Americans face.”
Jackson said he received backlash from the organization after he became troubled by the incident and shared his concerns with his bosses. Joining some of his colleagues, the fired employee demanded an apology from Moss and recommended the ACLU to dedicate a pipeline for hiring Black senior leadership.
According to the lawsuit, however, the ACLU’s Chief Analytics Officer, Lucia Tian, ignored the concerns.
“Given the ACLU’s mission to expand civil liberties, including in employment, Mr. Jackson expected Ms. Tian to hear him and support him,” the lawsuit states. “Instead, she instructed him to ‘keep quiet’ and to be ‘the cooler head in the room.’”
In the following months, Jackson was allegedly demoted from associate director to analyst, four levels below his original position. The plaintiff added that he was fired last year after he refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement during a performance review.
The former ACLU employee is now asking to be compensated for economic damages that resulted from his termination and for the legal fees of the case.
ACLU spokesman Steve Smith denies the allegations.
“The organization brokers no tolerance for retaliation and discrimination, and we flatly reject the claims in the complaint,” Smith said. “ACLU will respond to the complaint in due course, and the facts surrounding this case will soon become a matter of public record.”
The ACLU describes itself as an organization which "has been on the frontlines advancing civil liberties and civil rights" for more than a century. In April, the non-profit issued a statement to address matters within its own system.
"Today, we are focused on a new chapter of that story: one where we’ve turned our attention inward to our own culture and systems to evolve as an organization that is reflecting internally the ambitions we have set externally," the organization said in a statement.
The ACLU then proceeds to discuss the demographics of its staff.
"Since 2016, the national headquarters of the ACLU has grown by nearly 80 percent in our staff population alone. In summer 2020, we took a census of our employee population and found that 11.6 percent of staff identify as Black/African American, which puts us above the labor market and census data average—but we can do better," the group said.
Now, the ACLU is vowing to scale its "diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives to increase pathways to employment."