Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend

Liberty University files suit against Falwell

After scandal and split, school seeks millions in damages

- BY SARAH RANKIN

Liberty University has filed a civil lawsuit against its former leader, Jerry Falwell Jr., seeking tens of millions in damages after the two parted ways acrimoniou­sly last year.

The complaint, filed Thursday in Lynchburg Circuit Court, alleges Falwell crafted a “well-resourced exit strategy” from his role as president and chancellor in the form of a lucrative 2019 employment agreement while withholdin­g damaging informatio­n from the evangelica­l school about a personal scandal that would explode into public view the following year.

“Despite his clear duties as an executive and officer at Liberty, Falwell Jr. chose personal protection,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also alleges that Falwell failed to disclose and address “the issue of his personal impairment by alcohol” and has refused to fully return confidenti­al informatio­n and other personal property belonging to Liberty.

In a statement, Falwell said the lawsuit was full of “lies and half-truths” and called it an attempt to defame him and discredit his record.

“I assure you that I will defend myself against it with conviction,” he said.

Falwell’s departure from Liberty last August came soon after Giancarlo Granda, a younger business partner of the Falwell family, said that he had

been in a years-long sexual relationsh­ip with Falwell’s wife, Becki Falwell, and that Jerry Falwell participat­ed in some of the liaisons as a voyeur.

Although the Falwells acknowledg­ed that Granda and Becki Falwell had an affair, Jerry Falwell denied any participat­ion. The couple alleged that Granda sought to extort them by threatenin­g to reveal the relationsh­ip.

The lawsuit says that Falwell had a “fiduciary duty to disclose Granda’s extortive actions, and to disclose the potential for serious harm to Liberty.”

Instead, Falwell “furthered the conspiracy of silence and negotiated a 2019 Employment Agreement that contained a higher salary from Liberty,” the suit says.

The lawsuit argues that Falwell’s and Granda’s actions have injured Liberty’s enrollment, hurt fundraisin­g, disrupted faculty, resulted in the 2019 agreement that proved “detrimenta­l to Liberty’s interests,” and damaged the school’s reputation. Granda is not named as a defendant in the suit.

Liberty spokespers­on Scott Lamb said the university’s “only word on the subject is the lawsuit itself.”

Before the Granda scandal exploded, Falwell had already been on leave after posting a photo on social media that sparked an uproar. It showed Falwell on a yacht with a drink in his hand and his arm around a young woman who was not his wife, their pants unzipped and his underwear exposed.

The complaint, written with a flourish, offers new details reflecting the university’s perspectiv­e on its rift with Falwell.

“The time for Falwell Jr. to cash in on Liberty’s prodigious success had arrived,” the suit says of the contract negotiatio­ns. The lengthy treatise includes subsection­s with titles such as “Falwell’s Auspicious Acts of August of 2020” and “Falwell Jr.’s Hard Fall,” referencin­g a tumble down the stairs that prompted a 911 call.

According to the lawsuit, after Falwell gave a radio interview about the yacht photo in which he offered a “slurred” explanatio­n, Becki Falwell “stepped in.”

The lawsuit says Becki Falwell contacted three members of the executive committee of Liberty’s board to alert them to what “she described as her husband’s excessive use of alcohol.”

“Becki’s heartfelt appeal made an impact on Liberty’s leaders and helped provide a context for understand­ing Falwell’s questionab­le public comments, worrying behavior, and inappropri­ate social media posts,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also alleges that there were concerns at Liberty that Falwell “smelled of alcohol during work interactio­ns.”

It was agreed that Falwell would go on leave and Liberty would pay for his “rehab,” but a dispute later emerged between Falwell and school leaders over the type of treatment, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges three counts: breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and statutory conspiracy.

On the second count, the lawsuit says it seeks damages in excess of $10 million. On the conspiracy charge, it seeks $10 million in compensato­ry damages and argues that sum should be tripled, as allowed by state law under limited circumstan­ces, plus $350,000 in punitive damages. Liberty is also seeking other costs and fees.

Falwell, an attorney and real estate developer, had led Liberty since the 2007 death of his televangel­ist father, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who also founded the Moral Majority, making evangelica­ls a key force in the Republican party.

In late August, shortly after Falwell’s resignatio­n, Liberty announced that it was opening an independen­t investigat­ion into Falwell’s tenure as president. The inquiry remains ongoing.

Falwell sued Liberty for defamation in October, alleging that the school had damaged his reputation, but dropped the case in December without explanatio­n.

 ?? EMILY ELCONIN/THE NEWS & ADVANCE ?? Jerry Falwell Jr., shown in 2019 when he was Liberty University’s president, left the position in August.
EMILY ELCONIN/THE NEWS & ADVANCE Jerry Falwell Jr., shown in 2019 when he was Liberty University’s president, left the position in August.

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