LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — A former NFL player hired last year to help lead diversity initiatives at Liberty University is suing the school, alleging racial discrimination in his demotion and subsequent firing.
The federal lawsuit filed Friday by Kelvin Edwards says he faced discrimination based on race under the federal Civil Rights Act and the Virginia Human Rights Act as well as breach of contract. He is seeking more than $8 million in damages and other compensation.
In a statement, Liberty categorically denied the allegations and said they would be proven “false through the legal process.”
Edwards’ hiring was announced last August, at a time when the Christian university in Lynchburg was facing tough questions about its commitment to diversity and inclusion.
A tweet from former President Jerry Falwell Jr. invoking a blackface scandal that engulfed the state’s governor had prompted a rebuke from dozens of Black alumni. Several Black staff members resigned, several high-profile Black student-athletes announced transfer plans, and current and former students as well as employees began openly criticizing the university’s approach to issues involving race.
The lawsuit says Edwards moved his family from Texas for the job, executive vice president of management efficiencies and diversity, in part because he received assurances he would be employed at Liberty no less than 10 years or until retirement. Edwards is a Liberty graduate who was a star football player during his time there.
A short time after Edwards’ hiring was announced, Liberty appointed a new acting president, Jerry Prevo, because of Falwell’s acrimonious resignation over a series of personal scandals. Liberty and Falwell are now involved in litigation.
It became clear that Prevo did not “believe in diversity efforts based at Liberty,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit describes Prevo demoting Edwards before notifying him a short time later that his employment had been terminated.