RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Liberty University has filed a civil lawsuit against its former leader, Jerry Falwell Jr., seeking millions in damages after the two parted ways acrimoniously last year.
The Associated Press obtained the complaint, filed Thursday in Lynchburg Circuit Court. It alleges breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and statutory conspiracy.
Falwell’s departure from the Virginia university in August 2020 came soon after Giancarlo Granda, a younger business partner of the Falwell family, said he had a yearslong 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 alleges that Falwell tried to handle the situation on his own.
“We were doing our best to respectfully unravel this ‘fatal attraction’ type situation to protect our family and the University,” Jerry Falwell said in a letter in October 2020. “We extended the spirit of forgiveness to this man with respect and kindness, both for spiritual and religious reasons and in the hope that we could help him find his way and allow us to put this behind us, without any harm or embarrassment to our family or to the LU community to which we have dedicated our lives.”
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 said.
According to the complaint, Falwell negotiated $1.25 million a year, with a severance of $2.5 million if he resigned for “good reason” or if Liberty terminated him without “cause”.
Falwell reportedly asked for a “rabbi trust” that would provide him retirement benefits that would cover his entire career at Liberty.
This wasn’t a part of any of his previous employment agreements.
The complaint says Falwell wanted LU to pay severance and retirement benefits to him — if Granda revealed his allegations. However, the lawsuit says he willingly withheld information that would have ultimately altered the negotiations of his contract.
The lawsuit also alleges that Falwell has refused to fully return Liberty’s confidential information and other personal property.
Falwell responded to a phone call Friday with a text saying he was not available to talk.
It wasn’t immediately clear if he has an attorney representing him in the matter. The AP left a message seeking comment with an attorney who has represented him previously.
A Liberty spokesman didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry about whether the school had additional comments.
The complaint says the actions of Falwell and Granda hurt LU’s enrollment, impacted its donor base, disrupted its faculty and enabled an employment agreement that has proven to be “determinantal” to Liberty’s interest and reputation.
The lawsuit, which alleges three counts – breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and statutory conspiracy – is seeking more than $10 million in damages. In the lawsuit, it’s said that Falwell’s actions were deliberate, subjecting him to punitive damages.
Falwell, an attorney and real estate developer, had led the evangelical school since the 2007 death of his father, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who also founded the Moral Majority, the political organization that made evangelical Christians a key force in the Republican party.
In early 2016, Falwell became one of the first conservative Christians to endorse Donald Trump for the presidency and defended him after Trump’s lewd remarks about women and sexual assault, captured in a 2005 “Access Hollywood” recording, became public late in the campaign.
Falwell went on to court controversy and stay in the news, vigorously criticizing Democrats online.
Before the Granda scandal exploded, Falwell had already been on leave after he posted 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.
FULL LAWSUIT BELOW: