Former Liberty University President and Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. announced Oct. 29 that he is suing the school for damaging his reputation.
Falwell resigned from the evangelical institution Aug. 25 in the wake of a sex scandal. Falwell and his wife, Becki, had been involved in an unconventional romantic relationship with a young Florida man named Giancarlo Granda. Falwell insisted that Becki had had a brief affair with a man he did not identify, but Granda told Reuters news service the affair lasted seven years, and that Falwell enjoyed watching his wife have sex with Granda. He had texts and photos from the Falwells that buttressed his account.
The revelations came just days after Falwell’s decision to post to social media a photo of himself on a yacht with his arm around a young woman with his pants undone. Although Falwell quickly deleted the photo, copies were captured online.
Liberty’s Board of Trustees put Falwell on leave. A few days later, the trustees announced that Falwell had agreed to resign. He walked away with a severance package worth $10.5 million.
In a press release announcing the lawsuit, Falwell claimed that Liberty officials had damaged his reputation as they sought to force him out. According to the lawsuit, which was filed in the Commonwealth of Virginia Circuit Court for the City of Lynchburg, the school’s trustees sought to “tarnish, minimize, and outright destroy the legacy of the Falwell family and Mr. Falwell’s reputation.”
The lawsuit also has a political dimension. It asserts that the trustees spread false claims made against Falwell by an unnamed individual, believed to be Granda, who was allegedly working on behalf of the Lincoln Project, a group of Republicans who opposed President Donald Trump’s reelection.
The lawsuit asserts that Falwell “has suffered damage to his reputation, damage to his profession, humiliation, and anguish; lost business opportunities; and suffered other pecuniary damage.” It also says he lost 80 pounds due to “constant anxiety.” It does not seek a specific monetary figure in damages.
In other news about Falwell:
• Politico ran a lengthy story about Falwell Nov. 1 that highlighted the rampant nepotism at Liberty University. The story noted that most of Falwell’s children and their spouses held positions at the institution.
Politico said it “found a university community so committed to the Falwell legacy that even trustees considered it unthinkable to exert power over the son and namesake of the university’s revered founder. Plus, the university employed at least 20 relatives of stakeholders – defined as senior administrators and the 32-member Board of Trustees, according to federal tax disclosures – which gave many leaders an incentive to stay on Falwell’s good side.”
Glen Thomas, a former university board member, told Politico, “I didn’t think there was proper oversight, or enough governance by the board. The president, or the CEO, of a nonprofit should be working for the board to fulfill the mission of the nonprofit – not the opposite. I feel like the board was mostly on the sidelines. I call it having accountability with no authority.”
• Falwell’s absence apparently affected the Election Day outcome in the Lynchburg area. The Washington Post reported Nov. 9 that the Lynchburg region backed Joe Biden for president. It was the first time the area had voted for a Democrat since 1948.
Some observers speculated that Falwell’s departure depressed student political activism.
“The thing that struck me the most was the absence of Jerry Falwell this time around,” David Richards, a political scientist at the University of Lynchburg, told The Post. “I can’t help but think if Jerry Jr. was still president, that he would have had a rally and would have energized the city. … That’s an unknown factor that’s hard to measure. But without him using his bully pulpit at the university, some people may have decided to sit this one out.”