Trials & Litigation

Objection to ACLU 'mission drift' led to ouster of Florida board members, suit says

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A lawsuit, filed in Sarasota County, Florida, alleges that the national American Civil Liberties Union’s People Power initiative represented a shift away from core civil liberties issues to socioeconomic justice. Image from Shutterstock.

Former board members with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida allege that they were wrongly ousted after resisting “mission drift” and “partisan political activity” by the national organization.

The former ACLU of Florida board members objected to the national ACLU’s People Power initiative that began in response to the election of former President Donald Trump to the presidency, according to their new lawsuit.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune has the story.

The suit, filed in Sarasota County, Florida, alleges that the program represented a shift away from core civil liberties issues to socioeconomic justice, the article reports.

After raising objections, the ACLU of Florida reached an agreement in 2017 for the national organization to limit its national People Power messaging in Florida. The suit claims that People Power activists did not abide by that agreement.

Some Florida ACLU staff members supported the People Power campaign, messaging on “such socioeconomic issues as the disparate impacts of climate change and student debt relief,” the suit says.

Tensions increased, and eight Florida staff members filed a complaint with the national ACLU last year alleging, in part, an adverse work environment. A national investigation determined that the ACLU of Florida board was “chronically dysfunctional,” and staff members had been subjected to discriminatory treatment, the suit says.

The executive committee of the ACLU national board removed all but one of the ACLU of Florida board members, at first on a temporary basis in March and then permanently in May. The remaining board member became president, with the authority to appoint up to four new board members.

Gaby Guadalupe, director of communications for the ACLU Foundation of Florida, provided a statement to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Guadalupe said the national office investigated the Florida board and had a hearing.

“The investigations identified conduct by some members the of board of the ACLU of Florida that amounted to a serious violation of national administrative policies and which threatened substantial, ongoing and irreparable harm to the ACLU affiliate,” Guadalupe said.

The suit, she said, is “an effort to mislead the public about the underlying facts.”

“The ACLU of Florida and its national office remain committed to upholding the organization’s core values and commitments to the nonpartisan defense of civil liberties and free speech,” Guadalupe said. “Accordingly, we categorically dispute the veracity of any claims to the contrary.”

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