Jerry Falwell Jr. sues Liberty U. for $8.5M in retirement benefits

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. speaks during the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., July 21, 2016.
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. speaks during the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., July 21, 2016. | REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Former Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. has filed a lawsuit against the Evangelical institution his late father founded, claiming he's owed $8.5 million in retirement funds.

Filed on March 8 in the U.S. District Court of Western District of Virginia, the lawsuit claims that the prominent Lynchburg, Virginia-based university has denied and withheld funds Falwell was entitled to receive last Sept. 1. 

The complaint contends that Falwell met every requirement agreed upon in the Supplemental Executive Retirement Plan to receive payment of the benefits.

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Falwell reportedly came to the figure of $8.5 million, which includes an additional 6% annual investment return, based on a plan that he and Liberty negotiated in 2019.

According to The Lynchburg News & Advance, the lawsuit states that Falwell would forfeit the account "only in the event that his employment is terminated for cause" or if Falwell engaged "in any competitive activity." Falwell resigned as the university's president and chancellor of the university in August 2020, as well as his position on the board of directors. His resignation was accepted by the board. 

In a statement shared with the media, Liberty argues that the lawsuit was "part of a larger dispute currently pending in state court."

"The University will defend the new action on the same grounds it has already pled on the record in the state case. Liberty is confident it is not legally required to pay these funds and will file the appropriate responses with the federal court," the statement reads.

Falwell's resignation came after public revelations that Falwell's wife, Becki, had an extramarital sexual relationship with a former pool boy named Giancarlo Granda. Granda claimed that Falwell knew and approved of the extramarital relationship.

In August 2020, Falwell disclosed that since he resigned, he'd get over $10.5 million in severance — $2.5 million over the following 24 months and another $8 million in retirement benefits — per his 2019 contract. 

Last September, Falwell filed a claim with the university's executive committee demanding payment, which was denied in a written notice on Dec. 13, according to The News & Advance. On Feb. 24, the school again denied his request for payment after he submitted a required to review the initial denial. 

In October 2020, Falwell filed a lawsuit against Liberty, claiming that the school harmed his reputation and breached a contract. He dropped the lawsuit in December of that year.

"I've decided to take a time out from my litigation against Liberty University, but I will continue to keep all options on the table for an appropriate resolution to the matter," said Falwell in a statement at the time.

Liberty filed a lawsuit against Falwell in April 2021, accusing its former leader of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and statutory conspiracy. The university alleged that Falwell created a "well-resourced exit strategy" in 2019 while not telling Liberty officials about his personal scandals.

"Despite his clear duties as an executive and officer at Liberty, Falwell Jr. chose personal protection," the lawsuit claimed.

"[Falwell had a] fiduciary duty to disclose Granda's extortive actions, and to disclose the potential for serious harm to Liberty. [Falwell] furthered the conspiracy of silence and negotiated a 2019 Employment Agreement that contained a higher salary from Liberty."

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