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Thom Rainer settles dispute with LifeWay, heading off lawsuit; will honor transition agreement

Thom Rainer settles dispute with LifeWay, heading off lawsuit; will honor transition agreement

Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, and his son, Jess, speak at LifeWay National Youth Workers Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, on Wednesday, September 14, 2011. | James Yates

The Southern Baptist Convention’s publishing arm LifeWay Christian Resources and the organization’s former president Thom Rainer announced Tuesday that they have come to “an amicable resolution of their differences” heading off a potentially embarrassing breach of contract lawsuit.

“LifeWay Christian Resources and former CEO Thom Rainer have agreed to an amicable resolution of their differences after discussions on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020,” LifeWay and Rainer said in a joint statement to The Christian Post.

LifeWay alleged in a lawsuit filed Sept. 28 in Williamson County, Tennessee, that Rainer violated a transition agreement he signed with the SBC publisher upon his 2019 retirement to not do business with their competitors. The agreement under which he was reportedly paid in excess of $1 million, prevented him from doing business with LifeWay's competitors until Oct. 31, 2021.

In August, however, Tyndale House Publishers, which is specifically listed as a LifeWay competitor in the transition agreement, announced that it had reached a “multi-book, multi-year agreement” with Rainer, sparking LifeWay’s lawsuit and a rumble in evangelical circles.

Rainer previously said that in October 2019, he received “a written and amicable release from publishing” with LifeWay Christian Resources and spoke with the organization’s attorney and had “assumed all was well” until he received notice of the lawsuit.

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The corporate headquarters of LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Tennessee. | Courtesy LifeWay

LifeWay contended in its lawsuit that the “termination of the Publishing Agreement did not release” Rainer from the noncompete section of his transition agreement which keeps him as a paid LifeWay employee through Oct. 31, 2020, as chief advisory officer.

Under the new settlement, Rainer will end his partnership with Tyndale and honor the terms of the transition agreement.

“Under the settlement agreement, Rainer has agreed to honor the transition agreement, including the non-compete clause. He has agreed not to move forward with his business partnership with Tyndale House Publishers, which was a violation of his non-compete agreement," the statement said.

“Our prayer has always been that this could be resolved between LifeWay and Dr. Rainer amicably,” LifeWay’s Trustee Board Chairman Todd Fannin said. “We’re thankful Dr. Rainer agreed to honor his word and commitment to LifeWay, which has been our goal from the beginning. The trustees and Dr. Rainer are looking forward to putting this behind us.”

Responding to questions about a report that he was paid in excess of $1 million as part of the terms of the disputed transition agreement, the former LifeWay president told CP that he had started repaying some of that money several months ago. A follow-up statement from his son, Sam Rainer, said his father started making payments four months ago.

A LifeWay spokesperson told CP that Rainer had “only returned two-and-a-half months of his salary.”

Lifeway’s lawsuit alleged that if Rainer was allowed to continue his partnership with Tyndale it would “cause LifeWay to suffer immediate and irreparable harm for which there is no adequate remedy at law.”

Jimmy Scroggins, who is on the LifeWay board, said he was disappointed by the lawsuit and noted that it was not discussed with the full board when it was filed. He called it "embarrassing" and "damaging to the kingdom."

“I am confident there were, and are, better options for resolving any contractual disputes we have with Dr. Rainer,” he stated before the settlement was reached.

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