The evangelical leader is accused of failing to disclose scandalous information about his personal life, including an alleged extortion attempt by his wife’s disgruntled former sexual partner.
LYNCHBURG, Va. (CN) — Liberty University is seeking $10 million in damages in a lawsuit against its former leader, Jerry L. Falwell Jr., who left the Virginia college amid a sex scandal last year.
In a 38-page complaint filed Thursday in Lynchburg City Circuit Court, the evangelical university alleges that Falwell Jr., a prominent Christian leader who abruptly left his role as Liberty’s president and chancellor last August, breached his contract and his fiduciary duty to the school.
The private college, represented by lead attorney Scott Oostdyk with McGuire Woods, claims Falwell Jr. withheld from its board of trustees information surrounding his wife Becki’s sexual relationship with a man named Giancarlo Granda, to the detriment of the university’s reputation.
Granda, a former business partner of the Falwell family, had a yearslong sexual relationship with Becki Falwell, which the family has since acknowledged.
When Becki Falwell attempted to end her intimate relationship with Granda in 2012, he had amassed considerable leverage over the family, knowing that Liberty’s image would suffer if details of their relationship were to go public, according to Thursday’s complaint.
The family allegedly attempted to build rapport with Granda in order to keep him quiet, bringing him on family outings and even taking him to meet then-President Donald Trump. The Falwells later accused Granda of seeking to extort them by threatening to reveal the relationship and harm the reputations of both the family and the university with which their name is nearly synonymous.
Liberty says Falwell hid the problem while he was drafting a new contract for himself in 2019 “under false pretenses.” The lawsuit also accuses him of failing to disclose “his personal impairment by alcohol,” and refusing to return Liberty’s confidential information and other property upon his departure from the university.
“Despite his clear duties as an executive and officer at Liberty, Falwell Jr. chose personal protection,” the complaint states.
As an example of the alleged Falwell family secrecy, the complaint points to the ex-president’s comments in a Washington Examiner story released just after his August 2020 resignation, in which he “took pains to emphasize that he was divulging the extortive behavior for the first time outside his family.”
About two months after he left Liberty, Falwell Jr. sued the university for defamation, alleging that it forced his resignation the same day that Reuters published an article featuring accusations by Granda that the evangelist had participated in the affair and “enjoyed watching” them have sex.
Falwell, who is also an attorney, had claimed that Granda was involved in a conspiracy to smear his name and reputation among evangelicals due to his outspoken support of Trump. In the lawsuit that Falwell later voluntarily dismissed, he said the university failed to investigate Granda’s “outrageously false” claims before asking him to tender his resignation.
Liberty says in its own complaint on Thursday that, even though Falwell dismissed his lawsuit against the school, he never retracted his statements in the complaint or in his repeated media appearances.