Jerry Falwell Jr. is suing Liberty University for defamation and breach of contract after he was forced to resign as its president and chancellor in August amid a series of sex scandals.
Falwell, a notorious homophobe and major supporter of Donald Trump, had led the fundamentalist Christian school for 13 years, ever since the death of his father, the infamous anti-LGBTQ+ televangelist who founded it.
The events that led to the junior Falwell’s resignation include his posting of a racy picture on social media and a young man’s allegations of a sexual arrangement with Falwell and his wife.
The photo, posted to Instagram, showed him and a young woman, identified as his wife’s assistant, with their pants unzipped and their stomachs exposed. Falwell was holding a glass of dark liquid that he said wasn’t an alcoholic beverage — alcohol consumption is banned at Liberty. He was placed on indefinite leave in early August because of the picture.
Then Giancarlo Granda, a former Miami Beach, Fla., pool attendant who’d become friendly with the Falwells, told Reuters he’d had an affair with Becki Falwell, Jerry Falwell Jr.’s wife, and that the arrangement involved Jerry watching while Granda and Becki had sex. Any sex outside heterosexual marriage is likewise banned at Liberty. The Falwells said there had indeed been an affair but denied that it involved voyeurism. They also accused Granda, with whom they’d had business dealings, of trying to extort them — something he denied.
Falwell Jr. resigned from the Lynchburg, Va.-based university in late August and received a reported $10.5 million severance package. But now, in the suit filed Thursday, he says Liberty has wronged him.
“In his Complaint filed in the Commonwealth of Virginia Circuit Court for the City of Lynchburg, Mr. Falwell claims that Liberty University needlessly injured and damaged his reputation through a series of statements, published in print and spoken in large public forums and streamed online, following his forced resignation from the University,” says a press release from the law firm of Quinn Emanuel, which is representing him.
“These statements had the effect of affirming false claims that an individual made publicly against Mr. Falwell after years-long attempts at extortion against Falwell and his wife Becki,” the release continues. “Based on research and investigation, this individual appears to be supported financially by political opponents of Mr. Falwell in the midst of a heated presidential campaign, likely including the anti-Trump political action committee called The Lincoln Project.”
The suit contends that university officials accepted the claims against Falwell without question and forced him to resign without investigating the matter. Robert Raskopf, Falwell’s lead counsel with Quinn Emanuel, says in the release that he sought a meeting with Liberty leaders but ultimately couldn’t arrange one.
“Mr. Falwell has suffered damage to his reputation, damage to his profession, humiliation, and anguish; lost business opportunities; and suffered other pecuniary damage,” the suit claims.
University officials “would need to read and review a lawsuit before making comment, and as of this moment we have not been served,” the school's senior vice president and spokesman, Scott Lamb, told NBC News Thursday.
The Lincoln Project, made up largely of current and former Republicans who oppose Trump, couldn’t be reached for comment, NBC reports. The group is not named as a defendant, despite Falwell’s accusations against it.