Jerry Falwell sues Liberty University, says school damaged his reputation

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LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 05: Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. participates in a town hall meeting on the opioid crisis as part of first lady Melania the first lady’s “Be Best” initiative at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino on March 5, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The town hall is the final stop of the first lady’s three-state tour promoting her platform that highlights children’s well-being, cyberbullying and opioid abuse. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

RICHMOND, Va. (NewsNation Now) — Jerry Falwell Jr. has sued Liberty University, alleging the evangelical school founded by his late pastor father damaged his reputation after he resigned as president and chancellor in August amid a series of scandals.

The lawsuit filed in Lynchburg Circuit Court on Wednesday includes claims of defamation and breach of contract. It alleges that Liberty officials accepted what Falwell says are false claims about whether he was involved in an extramarital affair and “moved quickly” to destroy his reputation.

“When Mr. Falwell and his family became the targets of a malicious smear campaign incited by anti-evangelical forces, Liberty University not only accepted the salacious and baseless accusations against the Falwells at face value, but directly participated in the defamation. This action seeks redress for the damage Liberty has caused to the reputation of Mr. Falwell and his family,” the lawsuit said.

K. Todd Swisher, Circuit Court clerk for the city of Lynchburg, said there would be a hearing within a week for a judge to consider whether an unredacted version of the complaint should remain sealed.

“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,” said Robert Raskopf of Quinn Emanuel, the lead counsel representing Mr. Falwell.

Liberty spokesman Scott Lamb said the school would have a formal statement in response to the lawsuit later Thursday. The school’s board of trustees has been meeting this week.

“Other than God and my family, there is nothing in the world I love more than Liberty University,” said Falwell in a press release Thursday.“I am saddened that University officials, with whom I have shared so much success and enjoyed such positive relationships, jumped to conclusions about the claims made against my character, failed to properly investigate them, and then damaged my reputation following my forced resignation. 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,” he concluded.

Falwell left Liberty in August after a series of scandals roiled the evangelical school founded by his father.

His departure came after Giancarlo Granda, a younger business partner of the Falwell family, said he had a yearslong sexual relationship with Falwell’s wife, Becki Falwell, and that Jerry Falwell participated in some of the liaisons as a voyeur.

Although the Falwells have acknowledged that Granda and Becki Falwell had an affair, Jerry Falwell has denied any participation. The couple allege that Granda sought to extort them by threatening to reveal the relationship unless he was paid substantial amounts of money.

Before his resignation, Falwell had already been on an indefinite leave of absence after an uproar over a photo he posted on social media of him and his wife’s pregnant assistant, both with their pants unzipped.

Falwell said it was taken in good fun at a costume party during a vacation, but critics saw it as evidence of hypocrisy by the head of an institution that holds students to a strict moral code of conduct.

Shortly after Falwell’s departure, Liberty announced it was opening an independent investigation into his tenure as president, a wide-ranging inquiry that would include financial, real estate and legal matters.

Liberty’s statement issued in August acknowledged that Falwell’s sharpest critics have long been calling for a departure.

“Some may say that all the signs were there for a long time before last week,” the statement said. “It’s certainly fair to say that there were questionable comments made, worrying behavior, and inappropriate social media posts, but all the signs were not there until the start of last week.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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