Liberty University has sued its former president Jerry Falwell Jr, a once influential figure among U.S. evangelical Christians, saying he undermined its moral standards by concealing his wife’s affair with a pool attendant who attempted to extort them.
The complaint filed on Thursday in a state court in Lynchburg, Virginia seeks at least $30 million in damages.
It said Falwell, 58, breached his duties by refusing to disclose his and his wife Becki's relationship with the attendant, and negotiating a higher salary and severance package when he knew the affair could damage the school.
Liberty said Falwell improperly mixed his university duties with his personal life despite knowing that "infidelity, immodesty, and acceptance of a loose lifestyle would stand in stark contrast to the conduct expected of leaders at Liberty."
In a statement, Falwell called the lawsuit "an attempt to defame me and discredit my record," and said he had "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," he added.
Falwell resigned from Liberty last August, one day after the pool attendant, Giancarlo Granda, told Reuters that he had a multi-year sexual relationship with the Falwells. Falwell said the affair was only with his wife.
Granda had met the Falwells in Miami in 2012, five years after Falwell became Liberty's president. Falwell had succeeded his late father Jerry Falwell Sr, the prominent televangelist and Liberty's founder.
Liberty said Falwell's conduct contravened the "Liberty Way," its term for centering life on a rigorous education and a commitment to faith and to Biblical standards of morality.
It wants Falwell to pay $10 million in compensatory damages, which it said can be tripled under Virginia law, plus punitive and other damages. Liberty also wants him to return phones, computers and other property belonging to the school.
A spokesman for Liberty declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Granda said in a tweet that the lawsuit "continues to perpetuate a false narrative," and that the truth about the Falwells' behavior "will come in due time." He did not provide further details.
While at Liberty, Falwell had become a force in American conservative politics, and his early endorsement of Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential race helped win over evangelicals in a crowded Republican field.
Prior to his departure from Liberty, Falwell took a leave of absence after posting on social media, and then deleting, a photo of himself with his arm around his wife's assistant, where his pants were partially unzipped.
Falwell later told a local radio station the photo was meant as a joke.
In October, Falwell had sued Liberty for defamation, saying it damaged his reputation by lending credence to what he called Granda's "lies." He dropped that lawsuit in December.
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