Falwell, in a statement Friday, said the suit is “full of lies and half truths” and pledged to fight it.
In early August, Falwell was put on leave after he posted on social media a picture of himself holding a glass containing a dark liquid and standing with an unrelated pregnant woman. Both had their zippers partially down, and Falwell joked that the drink was “a prop only.”
Later that month he agreed to resign after news reports emerged about a young man Falwell and his wife, Rebecca Falwell, had befriended who allegedly was sexually connected to the couple. Falwell has said that his wife, who also goes by Becki, had a brief affair with the man.
In its lawsuit, Liberty contends that Falwell failed to return university-owned computers, devices and confidential information to Liberty and that he failed to disclose to the university alleged threats of extortion he had received in connection with potential personal scandals.
“Falwell Jr. … knew that matters of infidelity, immodesty, and acceptance of a loose lifestyle would stand in stark contrast to the conduct expected of leaders at Liberty,” the university’s suit said.
The university said in the suit that its agenda is “anchored in the principles of the ‘Liberty Way,’ ” and that it demands adherence to “Biblical standards of morality.”
The 38-page complaint alleges that Falwell deliberately sought to hide the affair. “Despite his clear duties as an executive and officer at Liberty, Falwell Jr. chose personal protection,” the suit alleged.
Further, the suit alleged: “Falwell Jr.'s actions in breaching the fiduciary duty he owed to Liberty were willful and wanton and disregarded the rights of Liberty.”
In a text message, Falwell pushed back against Liberty’s governing board.
“The Executive Committee of the Liberty University Board of Trustees has made yet another attempt to defame me and discredit my record,” Falwell wrote, “following a series of harsh and unnecessary actions against my children, Becki and me. Throughout all my years at the University, where we built a multi-billion-dollar enterprise that reaches Christians worldwide, I always abided by the requirements that applied to everyone on the University staff.
“This lawsuit is full of lies and half truths, and I assure you that I will defend myself against it with conviction.”
The young man who Falwell said had an affair with his wife, Giancarlo Granda, has another view of events. Granda has alleged that he had a years-long relationship with the Falwells in which he would have sex with Becki Falwell while her husband watched. The Falwells have denied that Jerry Falwell participated in the affair in any way.
Granda is not a defendant in the suit. On Friday, he said in a tweet: “Liberty University’s lawsuit continues to perpetuate a false narrative. The truth detailing the Falwells’ — and their enablers’ — abuse of power, predatory behavior and corruption will come in due time.”
When Falwell resigned in August, he said he was entitled to $10.5 million in severance. Liberty, in its lawsuit, disputes that claim.
His severance package is a major issue in the suit. Liberty alleges that Falwell concealed information about extortion threats from the governing board when he negotiated a new contract in 2019 that included a higher salary and a provision for two years of severance pay, under certain conditions, worth a total of $2.5 million. The suit indicates that Liberty agreed to that level of payout on Aug. 28, 2020.
Liberty declined to comment on the suit. “The University’s only word on the subject is the lawsuit itself,” Scott Lamb, Liberty’s senior vice president of communications and public engagement, wrote in an email.
Falwell’s father, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., was a prominent leader of the religious right who founded Liberty University and a nearby church.
Under Jerry Falwell Jr., who became Liberty’s president and chancellor after his father died in 2007, the school grew enormously and became a frequent stop for Republican politicians and others who wanted to connect with conservative evangelical Christian audiences.
Falwell endorsed Donald Trump for president in 2016 and became closely aligned with Trump, which was a matter of controversy among some Liberty students and alumni.
Liberty had more than 85,500 students in fall 2019, according to federal data, with most of them enrolled in online programs. The school also offers in-person classes to undergraduates who live on campus.
Liberty recently announced that Jonathan Falwell, senior pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church and Falwell Jr.’s brother, will become the school’s campus pastor at the end of the semester.
Falwell Jr.'s son Trey Falwell recently left his post as vice president of university operations, the Religion News Service reported.
Sarah Pulliam Bailey contributed to this report.