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The ACLU is good on many issues affecting Black communities, but it may have its own internal issue with equity and diversity. At least that’s what a former Black employee alleges in a recent lawsuit.

As reported by VICE, a former Black employee alleged the civil rights organization tried to silence Black employees from addressing internalized oppression within the organization’s ranks. 

After raising concerns such as a senior staffer posing with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Suing the ACLU for discrimination and retaliation, Robert Jackson described being demoted and then fired.

Before being pushed out of the organization, Jackson’s lawsuit outlined the steps he took alongside other Black staffers. 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 is the second Black staffer to sue the organization in the past year. Sarah O. Clifton sued the ACLU last year, alleging retaliation and raising issues with systemic racism within the organization. A former staff attorney with the ACLU in Southern California, Clifton alleged superiors often positioned as the “angry Black woman.”

Specifically, Clifton charged she was made out to be aggressive or angry. Filing her suit during last summer’s racial justice uprisings, Clifton felt it was important the public understood how the organization operated internally. 

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, 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 also accused the ACLU of misusing the struggle for Black rights for its own self-interest. In her lawsuit, Clifton said the ACLU allowed “flagrantly racist policies and procedures to reign supreme” while promoting equity externally. 

While the ACLU has not publicly commented on either suit, the ACLU announced in April it was working on its own internalized issues with systemic racism. The statement included five areas for improvement, including “creating initiatives to promote and retain Black leadership, and foster an equitable culture to support them.” 

The acknowledgment of its own internal issues came two months after the campaign’s launch to achieve racial justice called the Systemic Equality agenda. “The agenda strives to dismantle a system deeply rooted in racist policies, practices, and attitudes that harm Black and Indigenous people of color,” read the press release

At the time of the campaign launch, ACLU Board President Deborah Archer said the organization would prioritize civil rights and civil liberties. 

“We must redouble our efforts to challenge economic, social, and government policies that promote oppression and inequality,” said Archer. “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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