The Falwell name was once synonymous with Liberty University. Jerry Falwell Sr. founded the Christian school – which prohibits alcohol, immodest behavior and sex outside of heterosexual marriage – in 1971.
Fifty years later, the institution he created is suing his son, claiming he covered up scandalous information while negotiating a contract in 2019.
Falwell Jr. resigned his post as the school’s president a year later, after it was revealed that his wife, Becki, was having an affair with their pool boy. Falwell Jr. knew of the ongoing tryst and paid the man to keep silent.
He also posted a sexually suggestive photo of a Liberty University employee on Instagram without her consent. Members of the Liberty community were concerned about his drinking; he eventually went to rehab.
Needless to say, none of this comports with the strict code of conduct at the religiously pious school. But Falwell Jr. was entitled to a multi-million dollar payout on his way out the door (he says $10.5 million, the school says $2.5 million).
The clause that triggers that payout is now at the heart of the lawsuit, filed Thursday. The school says it would not have approved of the clause if they knew Falwell Jr. was harboring such dark secrets that could damage its reputation.
From The New York Times:
The suit alleges that Mr. Falwell deceived the board’s executive committee into redesigning his contract to include a higher severance payout if he resigned for “good reason” or if Liberty terminated his contract without cause. Mr. Falwell claimed to the committee that this would serve as a “safety valve” for both him and the university if his full-throated support of former President Donald J. Trump proved damaging to the school’s reputation.
Liberty also alleges that Falwell Jr. has refused to return sensitive property – namely devices used to conduct confidential school business.
The New York Times provides more details from the lawsuit:
In early August, Mr. Falwell posted a photo to his Instagram account in which his pants were unbuttoned and he had his arm around a pregnant Liberty employee who had her belly exposed. Mr. Falwell was holding what appeared to be an alcoholic beverage; his caption joked that it was “just black water.” The suit claims that Ms. Falwell took the photograph against the objections of the employee and her husband, Mr. Falwell’s personal assistant. Mr. Falwell promised not to show the photo to others, but later posted it to his public Instagram account.
After Mr. Falwell embarked on a disastrous attempt to explain himself in the media, Ms. Falwell privately contacted three members of the executive committee to express concerns about her husband’s excessive drinking, the suit alleges. Her “heartfelt appeal” convinced Liberty’s leaders to look sympathetically on Mr. Falwell’s erratic behavior, and to allow him to take a sabbatical, with a stint in rehab to be paid for by the university.
But Mr. Falwell resisted the idea of residential treatment, the suit claims. Liberty also says that Mr. Falwell had begun “drinking significantly” to manage his stress over the Granda situation. “There were concerns that he smelled of alcohol during work interactions,” the suit alleges.
The lawsuit filed on Thursday, according to the Associated Press, “alleges three counts – breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and statutory conspiracy” and seeks “more than $10 million in damages.”
In October, Falwell Jr. filed his own suit against the school long associated with his family, claiming Liberty damaged his reputation in public statements.