While there’s no disputing the valuable work the American Civil Liberties Union does, from promoting social justice and reform to fighting racism and defending LGBTQ rights, mounting evidence suggests that even one of America’s leading nonprofits dedicated to defending civil rights may have its own internal struggles with systemic racism and discrimination.
Anoa Changa of NewsOne reported that the ACLU is being sued by a Black worker for employment discrimination — for the second time in a little over a year.
According to Changa, “a former Black employee [has] alleged the civil rights organization tried to silence Black employees from addressing internalized oppression within the organization’s ranks.”
Former ACLU staffer Robert Jackson accused the nonprofit of a troubling series of racist activities within the organization, including rampant discrimination and manager retaliation; attempting to silence Black employees who attempted to address internalized oppression within the organization’s ranks; inappropriate activities such as a senior staffer posing with former Trump supporter and Attorney General, Jeff Sessions; and more.
“Before being pushed out of the organization, Jackson’s lawsuit outlined the steps he took alongside other Black staffers,” Changa reported. “The group not only called out issues in the ACLU but offered strategic steps for improvement. A major cause for concern was the lack of Black leadership within the organization.”
Jackson isn’t alone in his claims of ongoing racism and oppression at the nonprofit either. Another Black former staffer also sued the organization in the past year. In her suit, Sarah O. Clifton alleged that she frequently faced retaliation and criticism for “raising issues of systemic racism” within the group. She also claimed that her superiors often stigmatized her and positioned her as the overly aggressive “angry Black woman” within the organization.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Changa said that “Clifton described walking on eggshells while enduring an outburst from the executive director at a staff meeting. She also pointed out having to be ‘overly’ polite when talking to a supervisor.”
Clifton has also accused the ACLU of “misusing the struggle for Black rights for its own self-interest,” claiming that it allowed “flagrantly racist policies and procedures to reign supreme” even while it claimed to be working tirelessly for other individuals to promote increased equity and social reform.
The ACLU has not issued public comments on either lawsuit yet, but it has announced the nonprofit is working on its own “internalized issues” with systemic racism. In a statement from the group, ACLU leaders said they were focusing on five areas of needed improvement, including “creating initiatives to promote and retain Black leadership, and foster[ing] an equitable culture to support them.”
Changa reported that the group’s acknowledgment of its internal struggle with racism came just two months after the ACLU launched a campaign “to achieve racial justice” called the Systemic Equality agenda. In a press release announcing the campaign, the group promised its agenda “strives to dismantle a system deeply rooted in racist policies, practices and attitudes that harm Black and Indigenous people of color.”
Following the campaign launch, ACLU Board President Deborah Archer issued a statement, pledging the group would continue prioritizing civil rights and civil liberties. “We must redouble our efforts to challenge economic, social, and government policies that promote oppression and inequality,” Archer said. “If we want a future free from the systemic racism that has defined our history, we will need an ambitious, nationwide and holistic agenda to confront the policies that conspire to keep us from that future.”
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