Former Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. filed a state lawsuit Wednesday against the evangelical school founded by his father, claiming he was wrongly ousted from his leadership post.
Falwell had led the school for 13 years before he resigned under pressure in late August amid a series of embarrassing scandals, culminating with him posting to Instagram a photo of himself on his yacht with a woman who was not his wife and with his pants unzipped.
In a complaint in state court in Lynchburg, Virginia, Falwell’s lawyers alleged that Liberty defamed Falwell and breached the former president’s contract.
“Mr. Falwell has suffered damage to his reputation, damage to his profession, humiliation, and anguish; lost business opportunities; and suffered other pecuniary damage,” according to the plaintiff’s complaint.
Liberty University “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, said in a statement to NBC News on Thursday.
The lawsuit did not ask for a specific dollar figure sought in damages.
Falwell fell out of favor at Liberty after a former hotel pool attendant-turned-business partner, Giancarlo Granda, 29, told Reuters in an August interview that he carried on an affair with Falwell’s wife, Becki, beginning in 2012, when he was 20, and lasting until 2018.
Granda told Reuters that Falwell would watch as he had sex with his wife, and believes the couple preyed upon him.
In the lawsuit, Falwell’s lawyers said that Granda and the plaintiff’s wife “engaged in an affair” during “rare occasions between 2012 and 2014.”
Falwell claims he’s an extortion victim and has lost 80 pounds due to “constant anxiety” over his dealings with Granda, according to the civil complaint.
While the lawsuit lists only Liberty University as a defendant, the complaint accuses the Lincoln Project, an organization of Republican political operatives who oppose President Donald Trump, and one of the group’s senior advisers, Kurt Bardella, of backing Granda.
“When Mr. Falwell and his family became the targets of a malicious smear campaign incited by anti-evangelical forces, Liberty University not only accepted the salacious and baseless accusations against the Falwells at face value, but directly participated in the defamation,” according to the lawsuit.
Bardella, in a statement on behalf of the Lincoln Project, didn’t say what — if any — work they’re doing on behalf of Granda. But the group didn’t hold back in mocking Falwell.
“The Lincoln Project didn’t make Mr. Falwell sit in the corner. The Lincoln Project didn’t make Mr. Falwell unbutton his pants on a super yacht and post a picture on social media,” according to Bardella’s statement.
“The Lincoln Project didn’t make Mr. Falwell stand with Donald Trump, though that now makes sense; they are kindred spirits. The Lincoln Project has had nothing to do with the public finally learning about the true character of the Falwell family.”
Granda said in a statement on Thursday that the Falwells shouldn’t be cast as victims.
“I have received no financial compensation — none — for coming forward and telling the truth about the long-term affair with Becki, Jerry’s knowledge and participation in the affair; Jerry’s hypocrisy; and the Falwells’ abuse of power,” he said.
“Jerry is attempting to portray himself as a victim. No one should be fooled. The real victims are the Liberty University students, faculty and staff who have been intimidated into silence under his tenure.”
Throughout the 29-page complaint, lawyers for Falwell claimed their client was the driving force behind Liberty’s enrollment increase 15,000 students in residence and 108,000 pupils online. He also took credit for the school’s $1.6 billion endowment.
Falwell also took credit for the fortunes of Liberty’s intercollegiate athletic programs, which his lawyers claim are nearly on par with major NCAA schools such as Notre Dame and Brigham Young University.
Falwell took a leave of absence in early August after posting a vacation photo on Instagram in which his shirt was up and he was holding a glass of dark liquid. The image showed him standing next to a woman and his pants appeared to be unzipped.
He later deleted the post and apologized.
Falwell told WLNI talk radio in Lynchburg that the woman in the photo was pregnant and the jeans he was wearing didn’t fit, leading to an awkward image.
“I had on a pair of jeans I hadn’t worn in a long time, so I couldn’t get mine zipped either,” he said. “I just put my belly out like hers.”
He apologized, however, for embarrassing the woman in the photo by posting it. He identified her only as his wife’s assistant.
“I apologized to everybody,” Falwell told the station.
Liberty was founded in 1971 by the plaintiff’s late father, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the conservative advocacy group the Moral Majority.