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Evangelical Leader Claims Virginia College Ruined His Reputation

Jerry Falwell Jr. is suing Liberty University, the private college started by his father, accusing his former employer of defamation following a sex scandal that led to the downfall of the once powerful evangelical leader and ally of President Donald Trump.

LYNCHBURG, Va. (CN) — Jerry Falwell Jr. is suing Liberty University, the private college started by his father, accusing his former employer of defamation following a sex scandal that led to the downfall of the once powerful evangelical leader and ally of President Donald Trump.

The 29-page complaint, filed overnight in Lynchburg, Virginia Circuit Court, claims the Christian college where Falwell “dedicated much of his adult life” while “saving it from financial collapse” set out to destroy him with a series of politically motivated attacks. 

While not named as defendants, the suit claims the defamation effort was spearheaded by a lawyer representing Giancarlo Granda, a former pool attendant who started a business relationship with Falwell while having an affair with his wife, as well as the anti-Trump PAC the Lincoln Project.

Granda made headlines in August when he told Reuters he was involved in a seven-year open relationship with Falwell’s wife. Falwell, an outspoken Trump supporter, said in a statement at the time he was not involved in the affair but acknowledged its existence.

Around the same time, Falwell posted a photo on Instagram with his pants unzipped and his arm around a woman who is not his wife.

FILE - In this March 24, 2020 file photo, a sign marks the entrance to Liberty University, Tuesday March 24 , 2020, in Lynchburg, Va. Jerry Falwell Jr. said Tuesday, Aug. 25, that he has resigned as head of evangelical Liberty University because of ongoing controversies about his wife’s sexual involvement with a younger business partner and in the wake of a social media photo that caused an uproar. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

What ensued was a series of disputed claims from the school and Falwell himself that initially left his status as president of the Lynchburg-based college unclear. However, Liberty University announced in late August that it had accepted Falwell’s resignation and opened an independent investigation into his conduct. 

“We are also committed to learning the consequences that have flowed from a lack of spiritual stewardship by our former president,” the school said in a statement shortly after Falwell’s departure.

The lawsuit says Granda’s public statements, including claims he had sex with Falwell’s wife while the former university president watched, were part of a smear campaign organized by anti-evangelical forces.

Falwell alleges Granda was actually on a mission to extort him and when he refused to comply, the former pool boy and a member of the Lincoln Project conspired to take him down.

"The lies had the effect that Granda and the Lincoln Project intended,” Falwell’s attorney James Gilbert wrote in the complaint. “Within a day, Liberty turned on Falwell and forced his resignation as university president and chancellor.”

The lawsuit points to statements allegedly made by the school after the Granda story surfaced, calling Falwell’s behavior “disobedient,” “shameful,” and a “sin.” He accuses the university of giving “those lies an air of truth and righteousness.”

“Liberty’s actions are antithetical to the teachings of Christ," the complaint states.

Falwell is seeking an unspecific amount of punitive damages for claims of defamation and breach of contract.

A spokesperson for Liberty University said in an email that school officials have not yet been served with the lawsuit and need to review it before commenting.

In a statement shortly after the complaint was filed, Falwell said he wanted to avoid litigation but is taking steps needed to restore his reputation.

"Other than God and my family, there is nothing in the world I love more than Liberty University," he said. "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.”

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Categories / Education, Employment, Religion

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