Former Liberty University President and Chancellor, Jerry Fallwell, Jr., today filed a lawsuit against Liberty, alleging that the evangelical school “set out to destroy Mr. Falwell’s reputation” following Falwell’s resignation.
The lawsuit was filed in the Commonwealth of Virginia Circuit Court for the City of Lynchburg. It seeks damages for acts of defamation and breach of an employment agreement, which Falwell claims included a non-disparagement clause.
The lawsuit states that Falwell and his family were “targets of a malicious smear campaign incited by anti-evangelical forces.” These forces allegedly included a former family friend of the Falwell’s, Giancarlo Granda, whom Falwell claims was trying to extort him following an affair with Falwell’s wife, Becki Falwell.
The lawsuit alleges that Granda also conspired with The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump political action committee, to defame Falwell, as well as Aaron Resnick, a “politically prominent lawyer.”
It accuses Liberty of accepting Granda’s “lies” with “zero investigation” and alleges that the school “willfully ignored information demonstrating their falsity.”
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Falwell resigned from the school founded by his father in August, after a series of controversies. These included allegations by Granda that Falwell had been a participant in Granda’s long-standing sexual relationship with Becki Falwell. The Falwells admit the affair with Becki, but deny that Jerry Falwell was involved.
Falwell also had been placed on leave earlier in the summer after posting a controversial photo on social media, showing himself with his pants unzipped and his arm around a woman identified as Becki Falwell’s assistant, who posed with a bare midriff.
At the time of his resignation, Liberty’s board said “it would not be in the best interest of the University for him to return from leave and serve as President.” Falwell said at the time that Liberty gave him a severance package worth $10.5 million.
In a press release Thursday, Falwell’s lawyer, Robert Raskopf, said Falwell decided to file the lawsuit after failing to resolve his issues with Liberty’s board.
“We attempted to meet several times with the Liberty University Board of Trustees Executive Committee but were unsuccessful in doing so,” Raskopf said. “Thus, we were forced to seek remedy for Mr. Falwell’s ongoing injuries and damage to his reputation through the Court.”
Falwell said in the statement that he would restore his reputation and “repair damage to the Liberty University brand.”
“Other than God and my family, there is nothing in the world I love more than Liberty University,” Falwell said in the news release.
After his departure, Falwell told a Virginia newspaper that he was relieved to leave Liberty and he quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., saying, “‘Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty I’m free at last.’”
“I’ve done all I can do at Liberty and I’m ready to move on to something else,” he told the News Advance. “This happened for a reason and the board treated me very, very generously and I am very grateful for that.”
A spokesman for Liberty said the school’s trustees were busy meeting this week and had not yet seen the lawsuit.
Bob Smietana of Religion News Service contributed to this report.