Jerry Falwell, Jr, the disgraced former president of Liberty University, the largest Christian university in America, is suing the school for defamation.
In his court filings, Falwell also cites a non-disparagement clause in his contract. Falwell’s lawsuit talks of Liberty’s “abdication of its legal, contractual, and moral obligations not to defame him.” The lawsuit also claims that “Liberty set out to destroy Mr. Falwell’s reputation through numerous defamatory statements.” The lawsuit talks about the wonders of Falwell’s leadership.
The major scandal with the Falwell’s was the salacious accusation that Jerry Falwell, Jr was aware of a years long affair between his wife and a business associate. Part of that story is not in dispute. Falwell had previously acknowledged his wife’s affair (but denied the ongoing nature of the affair as well as the allegation that he had watched the two engage in the affair). But at the time, Falwell was already on leave from the university in response to a photo he had posted of himself and a woman at a house boat party with their pants unzipped.
And before being placed on leave from the university, Falwell had done several other objectionable actions. He had posted a custom face mask which depicted Virginia governor Ralph Northam in a klansman halloween costume. He had lied about attending clubs in Miami. He had called people “stupid” and “idiot” on his social media.
The biggest bombshell Falwell faced was undoubtedly allegations of his awareness of his wife’s affair but he had already established a pattern of conduct which was inappropriate for the president of a Christian University (or for that matter, the president of any university). Long before these allegations, there were people who had called for Falwell to step down. There had been people who simply wanted an apology.
In the wake of the reports about his wife’s affair, Falwell resigned from Liberty (and then he didn’t). And then he did. That was another debacle. But Falwell was given the very nice parting gift of $10.5 million to live the school.
And now he’s suing.
I’m not a lawyer. So I can’t speak to whether or not Falwell has a legal case. But a few thoughts come to mind. First, Falwell had previously claimed that when Liberty put him on leave, that this went against the terms of his contract. I consider that clause and his suggestion that he also had a non-disparagement clause, and I can’t help but question why he wanted all of these guardrails in his contract to protect his own poor conduct?
Again, maybe he has a legal case. Maybe the school will have to pay him millions of dollars. That I don’t know. But it’s shameful that the head of a Christian University would put so many provisions in his contract which so greatly reduced the university’s ability to hold him accountable.
Second, I can’t help but question the school and why they agreed to all of these provisions and gave themselves so little ability to hold him accountable and provide oversight. Shame on Liberty’s board.
Third, did Liberty pay Falwell $10.5 million and not have him sign any sort of release or agreement that he wouldn’t sue them?!
This whole thing is a debacle.
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