The Dallas Morning News

Liberty University sues Falwell

School’s ex-president breached duties to hide scandal, suit says

- By NICK ANDERSON

Liberty University filed a lawsuit this week against its former president Jerry Falwell Jr., alleging that he breached his contract and fiduciary duties to the school as he sought to cover up a personal scandal.

The evangelica­l Christian university in Lynchburg, Va., is seeking more than $10 million in damages from the man who led it for 13 years. The suit filed Thursday in Lynchburg Circuit Court marked another twist in the saga of Falwell’s messy departure last year from Liberty.

Falwell, in a statement Friday, said the suit is “full of lies and half truths” and pledged to fight it.

In early August, Falwell was put on leave after he posted on social media a picture of himself holding a glass containing a dark liquid and standing with an unrelated pregnant woman. Both had their zippers partially down, and Falwell joked that the drink was “a prop only.”

Later that month he agreed to resign after news reports emerged about a young man Falwell and his wife, Rebecca Falwell, had befriended who allegedly was sexually connected to the couple. Falwell has said that his wife had a brief affair with the man.

Falwell, 58, filed a defamation suit against Liberty in October, alleging the school accepted without verifying what he called false statements made by the young man. He later dropped the lawsuit.

In its lawsuit, Liberty contends that Falwell failed to return university-owned computers, devices and confidenti­al informatio­n to Liberty and that he failed to disclose to the university alleged threats of extortion he had received in connection with potential personal scandals.

“Falwell Jr . ... knew that matters of infidelity, immodesty, and acceptance of a loose lifestyle would stand in stark contrast to the conduct expected of leaders at Liberty,” the university’s suit said.

The university said in the suit that its agenda is “anchored in the principles of the ‘Liberty Way,’” and that it demands adherence to “Biblical standards of morality.”

The 38-page complaint alleges that Falwell deliberate­ly sought to hide the affair. “Despite his clear duties as an executive and officer at Liberty, Falwell Jr. chose personal protection,” the suit alleged.

Further, the suit alleged: “Falwell Jr.’s actions in breaching the fiduciary duty he owed to Liberty were willful and wanton.”

In a text message, Falwell pushed back against Liberty’s governing board.

“The Executive Committee of the Liberty University Board of Trustees has made yet another attempt to defame me and discredit my record,” Falwell wrote, “following a series of harsh and unnecessar­y actions against my children, Becki and me. Throughout all my years at the University, where we built a multi-billion-dollar enterprise that reaches Christians worldwide, I always abided by the requiremen­ts that applied to everyone on the University staff.

”This lawsuit is full of lies and half truths, and I assure you that I will defend myself against it with conviction.“

When he resigned in August, Falwell said he was entitled to $10.5 million in severance. Liberty, in its lawsuit, disputes that claim. His severance package is a major issue in the suit. Liberty alleges that Falwell concealed informatio­n about extortion threats from the governing board when he negotiated a new contract in 2019 that included a higher salary and a provision for two years of severance pay, under certain conditions, worth a total of $2.5 million. The suit indicates that Liberty agreed to that level of payout on Aug. 28.

Liberty declined to comment on the suit.

Falwell’s father, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., was a prominent leader of the religious right who founded the university.

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