NASHVILLE (RNS)—LifeWay Christian Resources has sued its former president and CEO, accusing him of violating a noncompete clause in his contract.
Thom Rainer, who announced his plan to retire as president and CEO in 2018, still serves as chief advisory officer for LifeWay. Under terms of a transition agreement, he was prohibited from working with a competitor for 12 months after his retirement, LifeWay claims in a suit filed in Williamson County, Tenn., on Sept. 28.
Rainer, 65, was earning the same salary he received as president, plus a car, which he could keep after his term as chief advisory officer concludes Oct. 31, according to the transition agreement he signed with LifeWay in 2018.
But in April, the suit alleges, Rainer and Tyndale, a publisher of Bibles and other Christian books, reached “a multi-book, multiyear agreement” for publishing Rainer’s books, which LifeWay says violates the transition agreement.
“Tyndale is ecstatic about our long-term partnership with Thom Rainer and Church Answers. Thom is a gifted leader, teacher, and communicator whose personal mission aligns perfectly with Tyndale’s,” Tyndale senior VP and publisher Ron Beers was quoted saying in a news release.
Rainer, a prolific writer, runs a business called Church Answers, which is intended to help church leaders with “resources, experts and community” through the ups and downs of church ministry. A lifelong Southern Baptist and Alabama native, Rainer received his Master of Divinity degree and a doctorate from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
LifeWay claims Tyndale given ‘competitive advantage’
Rainer said he was sad to hear about the lawsuit and said he received a written and amicable release from publishing with LifeWay on Oct. 1, 2019.
“Before learning of the lawsuit, I heard from a LifeWay representative about this concern only one time on Sept. 8, 2020,” Rainer said in an email response to RNS. “LifeWay’s counsel sent me an email asking for an explanation of my relationship with another publisher. I gave a quick and substantive response that same day. Even more, I requested to meet with the board officers in my response. I assumed all was well until the lawsuit was filed yesterday.”
LifeWay claims Rainer’s agreement with Tyndale gives that publisher “a significant competitive advantage.”
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“It is inevitable that he will disclose to Tyndale confidential information about LifeWay’s products, processes and services,” the lawsuit says.
In an email to trustees, LifeWay Board Chairman Todd Fannin said, “Board officers have requested an explanation from Dr. Rainer in writing on several occasions to resolve this issue, but have not received any substantive answer.”
Fannin, an Oklahoma businessman, provided a statement to Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee: “The LifeWay Board officers believe Dr. Rainer has violated his transition agreement, which contains a non-compete clause that restricts him from competing with LifeWay or partnering with a competitor until Oct. 31, 2021. We have requested an explanation from Dr. Rainer in writing on multiple occasions to resolve this issue, but have not received any substantive answer. We simply want Dr. Rainer to honor his side of the transition agreement with LifeWay.”
The suit seeks compensatory damages at an amount to be determined at trial and an injunction to prohibit Rainer and Tyndale from continuing the partnership.
Trustee wants legal action withdrawn
But at least some members of the LifeWay board of trustees have asked that the legal action be withdrawn. Jimmy Scroggins, pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., wrote an email to the board expressing his disappointment
Baptist Press reported Scroggins sent his fellow trustees an email citing three reasons he is “very disappointed” LifeWay sued Rainer: (1) “Lawsuits between believers are public, embarrassing, and damaging to the kingdom.” (2) “I believe a move this explosive should have been discussed with the full board.” (3) “I am confident there were, and are, better options for resolving any contractual disputes we have with Dr. Rainer.”
Scroggins wrote fellow trustees that Fannin should withdraw the lawsuit “until other options can be more fully explored or until the full board has an opportunity” to “discuss appropriate next steps for LifeWay’s relationship with Thom” Rainer.
A spokesperson for LifeWay declined to comment further.