Defamed Dean Dealt $3M Decision

Defamed Dean Dealt $3M Decision
Susan Dutca-Lovell

The Associate Dean featured as the "chief villain" in a discredited Rolling Stone article on an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia has been awarded $3 million by a federal court jury. This decision followed an earlier ruling that the discredited article ruined her reputation and "undermined her work to help students who had been sexually assaulted."

In November 2014, Rolling Stone writer Sabrina Erdely wrote the story "A Rape on Campus," which narrated an alleged 2012 gang rape of an anonymous student named "Jackie" by seven males during a fraternity party. The story triggered a nationwide debate over sexual assault at U.S. colleges and the university's purported "indifferent response" to the alleged assault. Shortly following its publication, the article was retracted after "devastating questions were raised about its veracity." The discrepancies were acknowledged by reputable media outlets including The Washington Post, Slate, and the New York Times. The Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism also joined in on the investigation and concluded that it was a "journalistic failure that was avoidable." In addition to the many discrepancies, police found no evidence the gang rape ever took place.

Ms. Nicole Eramo initially sued Rolling Stone magazine for $7.5 million, claiming the 9,000-word article marred her reputation and caused emotional distress. Instead of attempting to "sound alarm about campus sexual assault" and challenging "Virginia and other universities to do better,” the article suggested Eramo took zero action in response to the alleged gang rape. Consequently, the "magazine's failure may have spread the idea that many women invent rape allegations."

The winning lawsuit claimed that the "highly defamatory and false statements about Dean Eramo were not the result of an innocent mistake" and furthermore, "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 jury ordered Erdely to pay Eramo $2 million and Rolling Stone to pay an additional $1 million.

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