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 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 2019 employment agreement while withholding from the school key details about a personal scandal that exploded into public view last year.
“Despite his clear duties as an executive and officer at Liberty, Falwell Jr. chose personal protection,” the lawsuit says.
It also alleges that Falwell failed to disclose and address “the issue of his personal impairment by alcohol” and has refused to fully return Liberty’s confidential information and other personal property.
Falwell responded to a phone call from The Associated Press on 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.
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 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.
A Liberty spokesman didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry about whether the school had additional comment.
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.
The lawsuit, which alleges three counts - breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and statutory conspiracy - is seeking more than $10 million in 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 become 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.