(RNS) — Liberty University, one of the nation’s largest Christian universities, is suing former president Jerry Falwell Jr. for $10 million, citing a breach of contract and a conspiracy to mislead the university’s board.
Falwell, son of Liberty Founder, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr., resigned as Liberty’s president in August 2020, after years of controversy due to his support of Donald Trump and allegations of misconduct.
A complaint in the lawsuit, filed in a Lynchburg, Virginia circuit court, claims Falwell “fashioned a deceitful scheme to manipulate the Executive Committee of Liberty” while negotiating his last contract.
The complaint also states Falwell created the so-called “Granda plan” to conceal his family’s relationship with Giancarlo Granda, a young man the couple had met while vacationing in Florida. Granda has claimed to have had a long-term sexual relationship with Jerry Falwell Jr. and with his wife, Becki Falwell. The Falwells have denied that claim but have admitted that Becki had an affair with Granda. The couple also bought a Miami beach youth hostel in 2013, which Granda managed and also had a share.
The complaint claims Falwell devised a plan to cover up the relationship, fearing Granda would make it public, and that Granda asked Falwell for payoffs in order to keep racy photos of Becki Falwell out of the public eye.
“Most damaging, Falwell Jr. knew that Granda would be able to provide details about the fact of the affair with Becki, its duration, Falwell Jr.’s role in abetting it, the attendant circumstances of the affair, and the specific activities in which Granda, Falwell Jr. and Becki engaged in during the affair.”
Rather than telling the board about Granda, Falwell hid it from Liberty’s board, according to the complaint. Falwell also became concerned his high profile support of Trump would backfire and might cost him his job.
Then in 2019, he negotiated a new employment agreement with the board, which included a raise and a more favorable severance if he were fired. The complaint claims Falwell continued to conceal his dealings with Granda while trying to create a “safety net” for himself.
Falwell’s actions clashed with the school’s moral code, known as the “Liberty Way” — which requires faculty and administration to agree to a statement of faith and to adhere to “Biblical standards of morality,” including strict rules limiting sex to within a heterosexual marriage.
The school’s president was expected to be “a standout spiritual leader for the college,” according to the complaint.
The suit seeks $10 million in damages and a return of any Liberty property still in Falwell Jr.’s possession.
Falwell Jr. did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Source: Religion News Service
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.
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Source: Associated Press