Liberty University sues Jerry Falwell Jr. for $ 10 million

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Liberty University sued Jerry Falwell Jr. for $ 10 million, exacerbating the messy divorce between the Christian university and its former president whose last name has been synonymous with the university since its founding.

The new lawsuit, which alleges breach of contract and fiduciary duty, claims Mr Falwell withheld scandalous and potentially damaging information from Liberty’s board of directors, while negotiating a generous new contract for himself in 2019 under false pretenses. Mr. Falwell also failed to disclose and address “his personal impairment due to alcohol,” the lawsuit alleges.

Last August, Mr Falwell claimed he was threatened with extortion by a man who had had sex for several years with Mr Falwell’s wife, Becki. The lawsuit claims that by keeping the sexual entanglement and resulting “extortion” secret, Mr. Falwell endangered and later damaged Liberty’s reputation. Instead of disclosing the active threat to Liberty’s board of directors, “Falwell Jr. chose personal protection,” the lawsuit says.

Liberty University spokesperson Scott Lamb said the school had no comments on the costume. Mr Falwell did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday morning.

The university filed the complaint the same day its board of trustees arrived in Lynchburg, Va., For their biannual meeting, where they are set to discuss the future of the university, including his search for a permanent leader. Jerry Prevo, a close associate of Mr. Falwell’s father and a former pastor of a large church in Alaska, has been acting president since August. Mr. Prevo is also a member of the powerful executive committee of the council.

The suit is likely to shake up that normally placid gathering, which Mr Falwell had used to dazzle the board with flashy presentations about Liberty’s growth and influence under his leadership. The lawsuit alleges that Mr. Falwell tricked the board’s executive committee into overhauling his contract to include higher severance pay if he resigned for “good reason” or if Liberty terminated his contract without cause. Mr Falwell told the committee that it would serve as a “safety valve” for both him and the university if his The wholehearted support of former President Donald J. Trump has proven to be damaging to the school’s reputation.

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The real reason for negotiating the deal, according to the lawsuit, was to guard against the possibility that Giancarlo Granda, the former pool attendant who had the affair with Ms Falwell, would publicly reveal his relationship with the family.

The lawsuit says Falwell “incorrectly and errantly” told reporters he owed him $ 10.5 million after he left in August. His severance package should have been $ 2.5 million, two years of salary below the higher salary he negotiated in 2019, according to the lawsuit. “Liberty did not know if the portrayal of Falwell Jr. to the media was just buffoonery and bragging or an attempted claim for further compensation,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also claims that Mr. Falwell used a non-Liberty email address and personal devices to conduct his academic activities. Although Liberty paid for the devices and confidential university information is stored there, Mr Falwell refused to return them or provide access codes, the university claims. The school is working with an independent forensic accounting firm to investigate its operations under the direction of Mr. Falwell; this investigation is ongoing.

The lawsuit includes new details about the family’s 2020 yacht charter that led to Mr Falwell’s suspension before he resigned.

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In early August, Mr Falwell posted a photo to his Instagram account in which his pants were unbuttoned and his arm was wrapped around a pregnant Liberty employee who had her stomach exposed. Mr. Falwell was holding what appeared to be an alcoholic drink; his caption joked that it was “just black water”. The lawsuit claims Ms Falwell took the photo against the objections of the employee and her husband, Mr Falwell’s personal assistant. Mr Falwell vowed not to show the photo to other people, but then posted it on his public Instagram account.

After Mr Falwell embarked on a disastrous attempt to explain himself to the media, Ms Falwell privately contacted three members of the executive committee to voice concerns about her husband’s binge drinking, according to the report. pursuit. His “heartfelt appeal” convinced Liberty executives to look sympathetically at Mr. Falwell’s erratic behavior and allow him to take a sabbatical, with a stint in rehab to be paid for by the university.

But Mr Falwell has resisted the idea of ​​residential treatment, the lawsuit says. Liberty also said that Mr. Falwell had started to “drink heavily” to deal with his stress over Granda’s situation. “There were concerns that he smelled of alcohol during work interactions,” the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit also criticizes Mr. Falwell’s more general inability to shoulder the spiritual and moral responsibilities of his role as president of the Christian college founded by his father, Jerry Falwell Sr., in 1971. School regulations, that Mr. Falwell confirmed in 2019, state that the school president “provides spiritual leadership and worldview to the University in the pursuit of excellence.”

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Liberty students are committed to avoiding alcohol, indecent behavior, and sex outside of heterosexual marriage. On the other hand, underlines the lawsuit, the Falwells “frequented clubs in the Miami area” and socialized in “high-energy social establishments”.

Since his tumultuous departure in August, Mr Falwell has hinted to reporters that he plans to have a continued presence at Liberty. Last month, he posted photos on his Instagram account showing his family attending a Liberty lacrosse game.

But Liberty took some steps to distance himself from Mr. Falwell and his family. Mr Falwell’s eldest son, a vice president, left school earlier this month. At around the same time, Mr. Prevo emailed employees reminding them that “no University of Liberty employee at any level is authorized to communicate with Jerry Falwell Jr. or Becki Falwell on college matters ”, unless it relates to the Falwell’s daughter, a current student.

During this time, Mr. Falwell’s brother took on a larger role on campus. Jonathan Falwell is the senior pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church, which was founded by Jerry Falwell Sr. In Lynchburg, he has a reputation for having a greater interest in spiritual matters than in politics, in contrast to his older brother, who trained as a lawyer and seems to enjoy engaging in public battles over political and cultural disputes.

Mr Falwell filed his own lawsuit against the university in October, claiming the university damaged its reputation in its public statements after he resigned. This lawsuit was also filed the same week the board met in Lynchburg. Mr. Falwell abandoned it in December.