Jerry Falwell Jr., a close ally of President Donald Trump, sued Liberty University on Thursday, alleging the university defamed him and did not properly investigate claims about his personal life before pushing him to resign as president over the summer.
The lawsuit represents the latest turn in an astonishing falling out between Falwell and Liberty, whose family name has been synonymous with Liberty since his father founded the university four decades ago. It would have been unthinkable six months ago, when — despite some public reports about Falwell’s unusual behavior — he seemed to have Liberty’s unflagging support.
“Other than God and my family, there is nothing in the world I love more than Liberty University,” Falwell said in a statement. “While I have nothing but love and appreciation for the Liberty community, and I had hoped to avoid litigation, I must take the necessary steps to restore my reputation and hopefully help repair the damage to the Liberty University brand in the process.”
In the lawsuit, which was filed in Virginia Circuit Court, Falwell alleges Liberty failed to vet claims made by Giancarlo Granda, a former pool attendant in Miami who alleges he had a multiyear affair with Jerry and Becki Falwell. The lawsuit maintains that Becki had an affair with Granda “unbeknownst to Falwell,” and says that Granda tried to extort the Falwells, and was sponsored by the Lincoln Project, the anti-Trump PAC. And it says that Liberty is in breach of contract — which could entitle Falwell to a much bigger payout than Liberty has maintained he is owed after his departure.
“By forcing Mr. Falwell’s resignation from Liberty immediately following Granda’s false and defamatory statements, Liberty sent the unmistakable message to the public that Granda’s statements were, in fact, true,” the complaint says. The complaint also says that “not one member of the Board or the Executive Committee” asked Falwell about Granda’s allegations before asking him to resign.
Neither Granda nor the Lincoln Project responded immediately to requests for comment.
Though Falwell’s complaint focuses on Granda’s bombshell allegation, in recent years there had been several reports about unorthodox personal life. While evangelical Liberty has strict codes of conduct for its students and faculty, Falwell this summer posted a photo online of himself on a yacht with his pants unzipped his arm around his wife’s assistant, which sparked public uproar among many Liberty alumni. Prior to that, there was concern about the Falwell’s co-ownership of a hostel in Miami Beach with Granda, and his apparent visit with his family to a Miami nightclub.
The complaint says that, based on a 2019 contract with Liberty, Falwell has a non-disparagement clause with Liberty, and an indemnification clause that is redacted in the complaint publicly filed in court. In the days after he left Liberty, Falwell claimed he was owed $10.5 million — but Liberty has disputed he is owed that much, instead claiming the amount is less.
Asked for comment, Liberty spokesperson Scott Lamb said the university’s board is at its fall meeting for the next two days, and “The University would need to read and review a lawsuit before making comment, and as of this moment we have not been served.”
In a statement, Falwell’s lawyer, Robert Raskopf of Quinn Emanuel, said, “We attempted to meet several times with the Liberty University Board of Trustees Executive Committee but were unsuccessful in doing so. Thus, we were forced to seek remedy for Mr. Falwell’s ongoing injuries and damage to his reputation through the Court.”
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