On Monday evening, a jury awarded University of Virginia administrator Nicole Eramo $3 million in the defamation case she brought against Rolling Stone, author Sabrina Rubin Erdely, and the magazine’s publisher. Eramo was a central character in an article written in 2014 titled “A Rape On Campus,” which was discredited after publication. In her lawsuit, Eramo claimed that she was portrayed as the “chief villain” in the story and said the article had a “devastating effect” on her reputation.
Eramo had sued for $7.5 million. According to the Associated Press, Rolling Stone’s lawyers pushed back against her defamation claim, reportedly arguing that she was not fired from the University of Virginia and had a lot of support on campus as reasons why her reputation was not as badly damaged as she claimed.
The jury announced Friday after a two-week trial that Rolling Stone was responsible for defamation and Erdely was responsible for libel with actual malice. Finding that she acted with “actual malice” means the jury determined Erdely wrote the article either knowing that it was false, willfully ignoring the facts, or acting with reckless disregard for the truth.
Erdely said in 2015, after the article was discredited, “I did not go far enough to verify her story. I allowed my concern for Jackie's well-being, my fear of re-traumatizing her, and my confidence in her credibility to take the place of more questioning and more facts.”
Of the awarded $3 million, $2 million will come from Erdely, and $1 million from the magazine and its publisher, Jann Wenner. Rolling Stone’s lawyers said they were “heartbroken” by the verdict, but that they would respect it.
Columbia University's School of Journalism did a review into the article after questions arose about the veracity of the claims. The report found that Erdely and Rolling Stone had failed to perform basic, routine journalistic practices at the writing, editing, and administrative levels. It was a story that relied totally on one source’s narrative, didn’t reach out to the accused for comment, and then wasn’t properly fact-checked.
Eramo was written about in the story as having discouraged a student, who used the pseudonym “Jackie,” from reporting an alleged gang rape because she was more concerned about the university’s reputation. This portrayal and the backlash that came after, Eramo claimed, caused her to have suicidal thoughts, saying “It put me in the lowest point I’d ever been.”
Rolling Stone is still facing a defamation lawsuit from the fraternity written about in the article. The magazine tried to get the lawsuit thrown out, but was denied.