Two Former Employees Sue ACLU For Discrimination

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 07: ACLU pins are seen around New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Spring Studios on September 7, 2018 in New York City. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

Former ACLU employee Robert Jackson has filed a lawsuit against his former employer for workplace discrimination and retaliation. Jackson claims that he and his colleagues were told to "keep quiet" when they raised concerns about the organization's lack of diversity. Eventually, Jackson claims that members of the organization pressured him to quit his job.

“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 reads.

“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.”

Jackson alleges that his issues with the organization began in 2019 when ACLU Affiliate Support & Nationwide Initiatives Director Kary L. Moss took a picture with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Given Sessions' work history, Jackson found it offensive that Moss would take a picture with him at an employee conference focused on issues impacting Black communities.

“Mr. Sessions has spent his career supporting policies that disadvantage and target Black Americans,” the lawsuit explains.

“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.”

Taking things a step further, Jackson and his colleagues delivered a speech at the employee conference addressing the matter. During their remarks, the group outlined potential solutions to address the lack of diversity within the organization's leadership.

“Given the ACLU’s mission to expand civil liberties, including in employment, Mr. Jackson expected [ACLU’s Chief Analytics Officer Lucia Tian] to hear him and support him,” the lawsuit adds.

“Instead, she instructed him to ‘keep quiet’ and to be ‘the cooler head in the room.’”

Months after the employee conference, Jackson began to experience issues within the workplace. Without warning, the organization disbanded a project that he was working on and barred him from workplace meetings. To top it all off, he was demoted from associate director to analyst and his salary was cut in half. Despite the setback, Jackson worked well in his new role and received high marks from his supervisors. Then, he was asked to resign and sign a non-disclosure agreement. When Jackson declined the one-month severance package offered to him, he was fired.

This is the second lawsuit of the nature that the ACLU has faced in recent months. In Los Angeles, former ACLU staff attorney Sarah O. Clifton sued the organization for discrimination. While working for the civil rights organization, she was often labeled "angry" or "aggressive" when raising concerns about workplace diversity. Clifton also endured a violent outburst from an executive director and had to be “overly polite” when interacting with a supervisor who was seemingly afraid of her.

"[Clifton] purportedly was fired for being nothing more than an ‘angry black woman’ — a tired old racist stereotype that even mainstream publications have since caught on and written about,” the lawsuit reads.

The ACLU has not directly addressed either lawsuit, but it has issued a statement claiming that it will do better to address issues regarding diversity within the workplace.

"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 ACLU stated.

"As the ACLU continues to expand, we have a responsibility to scale our diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives to increase pathways to employment, strengthen our culture of belonging, and enhance our professional development commitments to underrepresented staff in particular."

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