Liberty University Sued by Former Diversity Officer, NFL Player Kelvin Edwards

By Bob Smietana
Liberty Federal investigation
Liberty University earns substantial revenues from veterans whose tuition is supported by the GI Bill, but the evangelical school continues to generate complaints. (Photo by Taber Andrew Bain/Creative Commons)

A former NFL player who served as a diversity officer at Liberty University has sued the Christian school for $8 million, claiming his firing violated the Civil Rights Act and the Virginia Human Rights Act.

In a complaint filed Friday in federal court for the Western District of Virginia, Kelvin Edwards, a former executive vice president of management efficiencies and diversity, alleges that he was fired because Liberty’s acting president Jerry Prevo does not value diversity.

Edward was hired in the summer of 2020, according to the complaint, to take a leadership role in the Office of Equity and Inclusion, which seeks to keep the school “free from unbiblical and unlawful discrimination.”

The job offer included a $275,000 salary, a $1,500 a month car allowance, scholarships for Edwards and his family, and a new home, according to the complaint. To take the job, Edwards states that his wife left a teaching job and he left a job at a car dealership in Texas, where the family formerly lived. 

The complaint alleges that the school committed to Edwards for 10 years during the recruiting process.

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A former Liberty University football star who went on to play in for the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints, Edwards cited his close ties to the Falwell family in a press release announcing his return to the school.

Kelvin Edwards

The hiring of Edwards and football coach Turner Gill at Liberty was touted as part of the school’s “ongoing efforts in diversity,” according to the press release, dated August 4, 2020.

“I warmly refer to Liberty’s founder, the late Dr. Jerry Falwell, Sr., as my ‘father’ not only because of the intimate relationship and mentorship between us, but also because current President Jerry Falwell and I formed a fast and easy brotherhood as college dorm mates,” Edwards said. “My wife, Tiawna, and I are excited to continue our relationship with Liberty University and to uphold the charge of building Champions for Christ.”

Jerry Falwell Jr. resigned as president of Liberty three weeks after Edwards was hired.

Not long afterward, the complaint alleges, Liberty’s acting president, Jerry Prevo, told Edwards there was “confusion” about his role. 

“It became clear that Prevo did not believe in diversity efforts based at Liberty,” the complaint alleges. “In fact, during that same time frame, Mr. Edwards heard Prevo comment there were ‘too many people’ in diversity and inclusion.”

The complaint also claims that only two of 28 executives and senior leaders at Liberty are African American.

In a July 5 statement to a local television station, the school said that “Liberty University rejects the claims of Kelvin Edwards and will prove them false through the legal process.” The statement also said that Prevo had determined that hiring Edwards was “among his predecessor’s mistakes” but claimed the school had tried to find him another job with the institution.

The school said that it is committed to diversity and that Prevo has increased the budget for diversity efforts. “The University and its president are fully committed to racial and ethnic inclusion and diversity throughout Liberty, including on its faculty, in its student body and staff, and on its executive team,” the statement read.

According to the complaint, Edwards was terminated from his role in October 2020.

Liberty sued former president Jerry Falwell Jr. in April 2021, seeking millions for breach of contract. That suit was filed in state court.

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana is a national reporter for Religion News Service.



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15 thoughts on “Liberty University Sued by Former Diversity Officer, NFL Player Kelvin Edwards”

  1. Will someone please, openly and honestly, and without presuming that I’m a racist for simply asking the question, what the “roles, goals, and responsibilities” are for the position of “diversity officer”?

    1. Marin Heiskell

      I have served as one – it was my responsibility to:

      – Develop (and deliver) on a data-driven diversity strategy (to be updated every 3 years)
      – Meet regularly with all other C-suite execs to align on their responsibilities to execute the strategy (including answering questions, providing support, setting expectations)
      – Compile and present reports on all progress to the board of directors (ready to answer for any trends); upon the board’s feedback, update the report for publishing/posting through various outlets (intranet, clients, etc)
      – Meet with data analytics teams to pour over all D&I related data (which included establishing benchmarks and standard deviations – and having action plans for when we fail to meet targets or have trends that exceed the deviation)
      – Oversee the development and delivery of all diversity trainings (they were customized for my company)
      – Make sure we remained compliant with all federal and state EEOC requirements (lots of unfun paperwork)
      – Develop and execute the vendor/supplier diversity strategy (including maintaining all communications with vendors/suppliers and making sure SOWs and contracts were up-to-date, compliant, and POs were fulfilled)
      – Provide oversight into all HR complaints, trends, and issues (taking note and preparing a response to any that are having adverse impacts on specific groups)
      – Make myself available for “office hours” to hear directly from workers on any diversity related issues
      – Provide overinsight into all marketing strategy (make sure it is inclusive and culturally relevant to all communities we want to reach)
      – Develop and oversee a crisis management strategy (to be prepared to respond to diversity ‘missteps’, which happen WAY more than people realize)

      I reported to the CEO yet had a VERY limited budget because of doubts on it being a “real job”. I worked my BUTT off.

        1. Marin Heiskell

          Sure thing! (And I forgot to add serve as the sponsor for several employee resource groups). I know the role of diversity officer is still very new, and there’s a lot of ignorance about what goes into it. Unfortunately, many diversity officers are given these aggressive goals but have to fight for budget because of the naive perception that they just glorified recruiters.
          Some companies don’t even make diversity officers full time roles (and make it someone else’s part time gig), and then wonder why they aren’t hitting goals or moving the needle.
          These are just a few of the reasons why many diversity officers leave within 3 years – they are held to unrealistic goals with a penny bank budget, or told to just “go to HBCUs and recruit.”

  2. Virginia is an at-will employment state – employers can let go of employees at will, without reason or notice.

    Unless Mr. Edwards was provided a 10 year contract which Liberty then broke, he has no legal claim and his lawyer is just trying to get him a settlement.

  3. Doesn’t sound like anyone at Liberty sinned against him or he would have followed Christ’s commandment of Matt.18:15-17. But doesn’t sound like anyone around Liberty obeys the Bible much these days. Jerry Sr. would turn in his grave.
    The Liberty saga continues.

  4. Warren Millard Roy

    I am NOT taking sides here. This is news to me so I don’t know enough to even come close to making a good judgment in itself!
    But whatever happened to 1 Cor. 6:1-8? it sounds like that verse doesn’t exist anymore!
    What about Matt. 18:15-20?
    Does it still exist?
    I am not taking sides here.
    I believe this could be easily handled outside of court.

  5. Diversity officers make sure the organization obeys the rules that the government puts in place to prevent discrimination, not only includes racial minorities but also handicapped and other mental health issues. Also can help avoid problems such as a fraternity having a party wearing blackface or a myriad of other culturally insensitive actions or stupidity. Just read the news to see how dumb college kids can be.
    I think if I were the president , I would have given him 3 years salary or a nice severance package. He moved his family here in good faith to do a job and because the last president is fired you basically throw the man out on the street. Your a Christian institution so you show the love of Christ as a witness to the community and you keep your university out of the news. Just do the Christlike thing even if you do have the right to fire him at will. My two sense worth.

  6. Chuck Pettigrew

    Of course none of us know all the facts but if what is said above is true then I would disagree with Liberty. If Mr. Edward’s came to Liberty in good faith and the the president of Liberty fired him , then he should get a good severance package. Basically your throwing the man and his family out on the streets. Your a Christian university, so do what Jesus would do, be generous, help him find other employment etc., it will definitely keep Liberty out of the news which could be a help since most of the news has been unfavorable as of late.

  7. Not sure of all the details, but it sure was a sweet compensation package! I think that there’s just too much money in Christian institutions and mega-churches and it’s thrown around like rice at a wedding. Curious too if he got a severance package on the way out. And, what kinds of positions was he offered if he stayed with Liberty?

  8. Suffering for Jesus at $275k

    I can’t get my head around the $275,000 salary, a $1,500 a month car allowance! He worked at a car dealership, so was this a comparable salary? I’m sorry, I can’t see how this salary is justified in Lynchburg! No wonder tuition is so high!

  9. Obviously Edwards viewed this job as an entitlement that the school had to continue as long as Edwards wanted to collect. Whoever hired him should be fired.

    1. Gordon Hackman

      That seems like a rather uncharitable spin on it. He accepted a job offer in good faith and moved his family to take the job, then was dumped after he’d barely started. It’s a bad look for the school, which is notorious for mistreating its employees.

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