A University of Virginia dean is seeking more than $7.5 million in damages from Rolling Stone, accusing the magazine and journalist behind a now-discredited article about a brutal sexual assault on campus of depicting the school administrator as the “chief villain” embodying the university’s alleged indifference toward rape.
Nicole Eramo, associate dean of students at UVA, filed a defamation lawsuit Tuesday against the magazine, writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely, and Wenner Media, which published the explosive article that detailed a graphic gang-rape on campus and a callous response from university officials. The credibility of the story, however, swiftly unraveled after other news organizations unearthed inconsistencies with the original article, and an independent investigation conducted by the Columbia School of Journalism ruled the story a “journalistic failure that was avoidable.”
“The Rolling Stone article has caused so much damage and reputational harm, both to me and also to so many others,” Eramo said in a statement through her attorney Tuesday. “I am filing this defamation lawsuit to set the record straight — and to hold the magazine and the author of the article accountable for their actions in a way they have refused to do themselves.”
In the lawsuit, Eramo blasts Rolling Stone for publishing inaccurate accounts and false statements to support the story of a student called Jackie, who alleged she was gang raped in a fraternity in 2012 and that university officials mishandled the investigation into her case. Eramo goes on to argue that contrary to the article’s description of her actions, as the university’s top administrator handling assault allegations she “immediately offered to assist Jack in holding her attackers accountable.”
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“Rolling Stone and Erdely’s highly defamatory and false statements about Dean Eramo were not the result of an innocent mistake; they were the result of a wanton journalist who was more concerned with writing an article that fulfilled her preconceived narrative about the victimization of women on American college campuses, and a malicious publisher who was more concerned about selling magazines to boost the economic bottom line for its faltering magazine, than they were about discovering the truth or actual facts,” the lawsuit says. “Erdely and Rolling Stone’s actions were malicious, willful, and wanton, and evidence a conscious disregard for Dean Eramo’s rights.”
Rolling Stone on Tuesday declined to comment on the lawsuit.
In a statement Tuesday, the University of Virginia said Eramo was well within her rights to seek private legal action. “The University fully supports and appreciates the professional competency and contributions of Dean Eramo and all of her colleagues who work tirelessly in the support of our students and their safety and wellbeing.”
The magazine has since fully retracted the story, and the reporter and editor involved have both publicly apologized for the errors, but Eramo’s long-expected lawsuit is not likely the last to hit Rolling Stone. The Virginia Alpha Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity accused of being the site of the alleged gang-rape, last month said it plans to pursue “all available” legal action against the magazine.