Jerry Falwell Jr., the former president of Liberty University, sued the evangelical school for defamation and breach of contract on Thursday, claiming he’s the victim of political retribution after he was forced out in August amid several highly publicized personal scandals.
In a lawsuit filed in Virginia state court, the 58-year-old claims the school founded by his father accepted false claims against him—including that he had an illicit affair with a Miami pool attendant and repeatedly used racist rhetoric—without investigation. The university then forced him out of the job he held for 13 years, seeking to “tarnish, minimize, and outright destroy” his legacy, the lawsuit alleges.
“When Mr. Falwell and his family became the target 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,” states the lawsuit, which asks for unspecified damages and a court order barring the school from further defamation.
In a statement announcing the lawsuit., Falwell Jr. said he was saddened that school officials “jumped to conclusions about the claims made against my character, failed to properly investigate them, and then damaged my reputation following my forced resignation.”
“While I have nothing but love and appreciation for the Liberty community, and I had hoped to avoid litigation, I must take the necessary steps to restore my reputation and hopefully help repair the damage to the Liberty University brand in the process,” he added.
Falwell’s battle with Liberty University began on Aug. 7 when the school announced it was investigating “rumors and claims” about the evangelical leader after a photo of him with his pants unzipped surfaced. Falwell apologized for the photo, which he said was taken at a costume party during a family vacation, but was put on an indefinite leave of absence.
Then, in an Aug. 23 statement to The Washington Examiner, Falwell revealed that his wife had struck up an “inappropriate personal relationship” with the couple’s “pool boy,” who was threatening to come forward. Citing the “emotional toll” of the affair, Falwell claimed that while he and his wife have “tried to distance ourselves from him over time,” the man “became increasingly angry and aggressive.”
“Eventually, he began threatening to publicly reveal this secret relationship with Becki and to deliberately embarrass my wife, family, and Liberty University unless we agreed to pay him substantial monies,” Falwell said in the statement to the Examiner.
The next day, the pool attendant claimed in an explosive Reuters interview that he was involved in a seven-year sexual relationship with the couple that began in March 2013.
Giancarlo Granda, who said his relationship with the couple began when he was a 20-year-old employee at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel, told Reuters that throughout the affair he would have sex with Falwell’s wife, Becki Tilley Falwell, in front of the evangelical leader.
“Becki and I developed an intimate relationship and Jerry enjoyed watching from the corner of the room,” Granda said, noting that the liaisons took place “multiple times per year” at hotels in New York and Miami and at the couple’s home in Virginia before ending in 2018.
Falwell’s lawsuit directly addresses Granda’s accusations, claiming the pair have been victims of the 29-year-old’s ongoing extortion scheme for years.
The blackmail efforts, the lawsuit says, have recently been “absorbed into a smear campaign by political operatives who are opposed to Mr. Falwell’s support of President Trump.” Falwell’s lawyers allege Granda is working with the Lincoln Project, a political-action campaign formed by Republicans to prevent President Trump’s re-election, and began his “hit job” against the evangelical leader’s family after teaming up with them. (Rick Wilson, an editor-at-large for The Daily Beast, is a co-founder of the Lincoln Project.)
After Falwell’s resignation, Liberty University also took steps to “systematically erase” him from the school’s history, the lawsuit states, including scrubbing any mention of him on the website, removing portraits of him from campus, and prohibiting communication with faculty and staff.
“The University also moved quickly to destroy Mr. Falwell’s reputation in the Liberty community and nationwide,” the lawsuit says, including stating he had engaged in “disobedient” behavior “in secret” that was a “sin” during a community service event on Aug. 26.
“Up until that point, Granda’s lies were just that—lies, vigorously denied by Mr. Falwell. But Liberty gave those lies an air of truth and righteousness,” the lawsuit states, calling the school’s action “antithetical to the teachings of Christ.” The lawsuit adds the school has declined to meet with Falwell since his resignation.
In addition to the sexual scandals, Falwell was forced to make a public apology in June amid uproar over a tweet in which he said he’d only wear a coronavirus mask if it had the 1984 photo allegedly showing Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in blackface emblazoned on it. At least three Black university employees resigned as a result of the tweet.
“We attempted to meet several times with the Liberty University Board of Trustees Executive Committee but were unsuccessful in doing so," Robert Raskopf, the lead counsel representing Falwell, said in a statement. “Thus, we were forced to seek remedy for Mr. Falwell's ongoing injuries and damage to his reputation through the Court.”
Liberty University did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.